Black Rose

Chapter Nineteen

WITH THE BABYon her hip, Hayley bolted into the kitchen the next morning. Her hair was bunched in a short tail at the back of her head, her eyes were huge, and she'd misbuttoned her pajama top.

"I just talked to Lily's sitter," she announced to the room at large, "and her aunt belongs to the country club. She says Roz was in a fight last night."

"I certainly was not." Life could be heartwarmingly predictable, Roz thought and continued to spread jam thinly on a triangle of toast.

"What kinda fight?" Gavin wanted to know. "A punching fight?"

"I was not in a punching fight." Roz handed him the toast. "People exaggerate things, little man. It's the way of the world."

"Did you kick somebody in the face?"

Roz raised her eyebrows at Luke. "Of course not. You might say, metaphorically, I kicked somebody in the ass."

"What's met . . ."

"A metaphor's a fancy way of saying something's like something else. I could say I'm a cat full of canary this morning." She winked at Luke. "And that would mean I'm feeling very satisfied and smug. But I never laid a hand on him."

"Who?" Stella demanded.

"Bryce Clerk." The answer came from David as he poured more coffee. "My intelligence network is far-flung and faster than the speed of light. I heard about it last night, before eleven o'clock, Central Standard Time."

"And didn't tell anybody?" Hayley glowered at him as she strapped Lily in her high chair.

"Actually, I was waiting for all to be present and accounted for before I brought it up. Ah, here comes Harper now. I told him his presence was required at breakfast this morning."

"Really, David, it's no big deal, and I need to get ready for work."

"On the contrary." Shaking his head over his coffee, Mitch looked around the table. "It was extraordinary. The woman," he said with a long look at Roz, "is extraordinary."

Under the table she took his hand, gave it a warm squeeze. A silent thanks for letting this play out without any of last night's horror marring the mood.

"What's up?" Harper demanded. "We're having omelettes? How come we're having omelettes?"

"Because your mama likes them, and she needs to recharge her energies after hauling out her can of Whoop Ass last night."

"Don't be ridiculous," Roz replied, even as a chuckle tickled the back of her throat.

"What about last night? What Whoop Ass?"

"See what you miss when you don't go to the club?" David told Harper.

"If somebody doesn't fill in the blanks soon, I'm going to go crazy." Hayley gave Lily a sip-cup of juice and plopped down. "Spill, every deet."

"There's not that much to tell," Roz began.

"I'll tell it." Mitch returned Roz's bland look equably. "She'll leave stuff out. Now, some of this I pried out of her, because I wasn't there at the time, and some of the other I got from my son. But I'll tell it all in one piece - more impact."

He started with the brief stop by the Forresters' table, then moved to the bathroom scene, then dramatized the altercation between Roz and Bryce outside the lounge area.

"Oh, my God, they walked out while you were talking to that . . ." Hayley cleared her throat, amended her first thought as she remembered the children. "Man."

"His back was to them," Mitch filled in. "It was perfectly staged."

Hayley fed Lily bits of egg and gaped at Roz. "It's so cool. Like, I don't know, a sting."

"The timing was exquisite," Mitch agreed. "You should've seen your mother, Harper, cool and slick as an iceberg, and just as dangerous."

"This kitchen is full of metaphors this morning," Roz commented. "Isn't anyone going to work?"

"Seen her like that." Harper scooped up some omelette. "Scary."

"It happened I was in a position to see the reaction of the ladies behind them," Mitch said, "and it was beautiful. He's mouthing off, bragging about how he can keep screwing around, the phone calls, the credit cards, and so on, and nobody'll pin him. He's insulting Quill, calling Mandy stupid. Utterly full of himself, and Roz just stands there - he doesn't even know she's just brought the ax down on his neck. She doesn't flick an eyelash, just keeps prompting him to say more and more until the son of a . . ." He remembered the kids. ". . . gun is buried in his own words. Then, then, when it's done, she just waves a hand, so he turns and sees they're behind him. And she strolls away. It was beautiful."

"I hope they fell on him like dogs," Stella said under her breath.

"Close enough. Apparently, he tried to talk his way out of it, convince them that it was all a mistake, but the blonde, she's hysterical. Screaming, crying, slapping at him. The other goes straight to her husband, fills him in, so he knows it was Bryce's vindictiveness that lost him one of his top clients. He loses it - according to my son - and bulls his way to Bryce and punches him. People are jumping up, glasses are crashing, the blonde jumps on Clerk and starts biting and scratching."

"Holy cow," Gavin whispered, awed.

"They had to drag her off, and while they were, Quill took another shot, and they had to draghim off."

"I wish I'd seen that." Harper rose to get his choice of morning caffeine and came back to the table with a can of Coke. "I really do."

"People were running for cover, or pushing to get closer to the action," Mitch continued. "Slipping on olives from martinis, sliding around in salmon mousse or whatever, knocking over tables. They were at the point of calling the cops when in-house security broke it up."

"Where were you?" Hayley wondered.

"I was on the terrace making out with Roz. Dancing with Roz," he corrected with a wink. "We had a decent view through the doors and windows."

"It'll be the talk of the town for some time," Roz concluded. "As far as I'm concerned, all of them got just what they deserved. A bellyful of embarrassment. Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I've got to get to work."

"Wait, wait, what about Bryce?" Hayley forked up some eggs for herself. "You can't leave us hanging."

"I couldn't say, but I suspect he'll scamper out of Shelby County with his tail between his legs. I don't think he'll be around anymore."

"That's it?" Hayley wondered. "You're not going to - " She broke off, wiped Lily's face. "That's good. It's good he's gone."

Roz ruffled both boys' hair, then got up to lay a kiss on the top of Lily's head. "I'll be giving the police my statement regarding possible charges for fraud this afternoon, as will Mitch, who heard everything Bryce said. I imagine they'll speak with the others who heard him flapping. Then we'll see what happens next."

"Even better," Hayley said with a smile. "Even much better."

"I don't punch or kick people in the face, at least not to date. But I don't get pushed around for long, either."

She walked out, pleased, even comforted, that the day had begun with laughter instead of worry.

ROZ STOOD ONthe little slope at the edge of her woods and studied the spread and form of In the Garden. There were wonderful blocks of color, tender spring green, bold pinks, exotic blues, cheery yellows, and hot, hot reds.

The old, time-faded brown tables were full of those colors, displaying bedding plants in flats and pots. The ground itself erupted with it, blooming in an enthusiastic celebration of the season. The buildings looked fresh and welcoming, the greenhouses industrious. There were planters exploding with color and shape, hanging baskets dripping with them.

From this vantage she could see slices of the shrub area, and the ornamental trees, and all the way back to the field-grown, with its ruler-straight rows and muscular machines.

Everywhere she looked there were people, customers and staff, bustling or browsing. Red wagons chugged along like little trains carrying their hopeful cargo. Flatbeds bumped over the gravel paths, and out to the parking area where their loads could be transferred into cars and trucks.

She could see the mountains of mulch, loose and bagged, the towers of pavers, the rails of landscape timbers.

Busy, busy, she thought, but with the charm she'd always envisioned in homey touches. The arbor already twined with morning glory vines, the curved bench strategically placed by a bubbling garden fountain, the flashy red of a hummingbird feeder dangling from a branch, the music of a wind chime circling gently in the breeze.

She should be down there, of course, doing some bustling herself, babying her stock, calculating inventory. Having a manager - even an exceptional one like Stella - didn't mean she shouldn't have her finger on every pulse.

But she'd wanted the air, the movement of it around her after hours in the denseness of the propagation house. And she wanted this view of what she'd built. What she'd worked for, gambled on.

Today, under a sky so freshly blue it might have been painted on glass, it was beautiful. And every hour she'd spent over all these years sweating, worrying, calculating, struggling was worth it.

It was solid and successful, and very much the sprawling garden she'd wanted to create. A business, yes, a business first and foremost, but a lovely one. One that reflected her style, her vision, her legacy.

If some insisted on seeing it as her hobby, let them. If some, even most, thought of her as the woman who'd glided around the country club in a gold gown and diamonds, that was fine. She didn't mind slipping on the glamour now and again. In fact, she could enjoy it.

But the truth of her, the core of her, was standing here, wearing ancient jeans and a faded sweatshirt, a ballcap over her hair and scarred boots on her feet.

The truth of her was a working woman with bills to pay, a business to run, and a home to maintain. It was that woman she was proud of when she took the time to be proud. The Rosalind Harper of the country club and society set was a duty to her name. This, all the rest, was life.

She took a breath, braced herself, and deliberately pushed her mind in a specific direction. She would see what happened, and how both she and Amelia would deal with it.

So she thought: If this was life, hers to live, why couldn't she gamble yet again? Expand that life by taking into it, fully, the man who excited and comforted her, who intrigued and amused her?

The man who had somehow strolled through the maze that grief and work and duty and pride had built around her heart.

The man she loved.

She could live her life alone if need be, but what did it prove? That she was self-sufficient, independent, strong, and able. She knew those things, had been those things - and would always be those things.

And she could be courageous, too.

Didn't it take courage, wasn't it harder to blend one life with another, to share and to cope, to compromise than to live that life alone? It was work to live with a man, to wake up every day prepared to deal with routine, and to be open to surprises.

She'd never shied away from work.

Marriage was a different kettle at this stage of life. There would be no babies made between them. But they could share grandchildren one day. They wouldn't grow up together, but could grow old together.

They could be happy.

They always lie. They're never true.

Roz stood in the same spot, on a gentle rise at the edge of the woods. But In the Garden was gone. There were fields, stark with winter, barren trees, and the feel of ice on the air.

"Not all men," Roz said quietly. "Not always."

I've known more than you.

She walked across the fields, insubstantial as the mist that began to spread, a shallow sea, over the bare, black ground. Her white gown was filthy, as were her naked feet. Her hair was a tangle of oily gold around a face bright with madness.

Fear blew through Roz like a sudden, vicious storm. But she planted her feet. She'd ride it out.

The light had gone out of the day. Heavy clouds rolled over the sky, smothering the blue with black, a black tinged with violent green.

"I've lived longer than you," Roz said, and though she couldn't stop the shudder as Amelia approached, she stood her ground.

And learned so little. You have all you need. A home, children, work that satisfies you. What do you need with a man?

"Love matters."

There was a laugh, a wet chortle that screamed across Roz's nerves.Love is the biggest lie. He will fuck you, and use you, and cheat and lie. He will give you pain until you are hollow and empty, until you are dried up and ugly. And dead.

Pity stirred under the fear. "Who betrayed you? Who brought you to this?"

All. They're all the same. They're the whores, though they label us so. Didn't they come to me, ram their cocks into me, while their wives slept alone in their saintly beds?

"Did they force you? Did - "

Then they take what's yours. What wasmine!

She slammed both fists into her belly, and the force of the rage, the grief, and the fury knocked Roz back two full steps.

Here was the storm, spewing out of the sky, bursting out of the ground, swirling though the fog and into the filthy air. It clogged Roz's lungs as if she were breathing mud.

She heard the crazed screams through it.

Kill them all! Kill them all in their sleep. Hack them to bits, bathe in their blood. Take back what's mine. Damn them, damn them all to hell!

"They're gone. They're dust." Roz tried to shout, but could barely choke out the words. "Am I what's left?"

The storm stopped as abruptly as it began, and the Amelia who stood in the calm was one who sang lullabies to children. Sad and pale in her gray dress.

You're mine. My blood. She held out a hand, and red welled in the palm.My bone. Out of my womb, out of my heart. Stolen, ripped away. Find me. I'm so lost.

Then Roz was alone, standing on the springy grass at the edge of the woods with what she'd built spread out below her.

SHE WENT BACKto work because work steadied her. The only way she could wrap her mind around what happened at the edge of the woods was to do something familiar, something that kept her hands occupied while her brain sorted through the wonder of it.

She kept to herself because solitude soothed her.

Through the afternoon she divided more stock plants, rooted cuttings. Watered, fed, labeled.

When she was done, she walked home through the woods and raided her personal greenhouse. She planted cannas in a spot she wanted to dramatize, larkspur and primroses where she wanted more charm. In the shade, she added some ladybells and cranesbill for serenity.

Her serenity, she thought, could always be found here, in the gardens, in the soil, in the shadow of Harper House. Under that fresh blue sky she knelt on the ground, and studied what was hers.

So lovely with its soft yellow stone, its sparkling glass, its bridal white trim.

What secrets were trapped in those rooms, in those walls? What was buried in this soil she worked, season after season, with her own hands?

She had grown up here, as her father had, and his father, and those who'd come before. Generation after generation of shared blood and history. She had raised her children here, and had worked to preserve this legacy so that the children of her children would call this home.

Whatever had been done to pass all of this to her, she would have to know. And then accept.

Settled again, she replaced her tools, then went into the house to shower off the day.

She found Mitch working in the library.

"Sorry to interrupt. There's something I need to talk to you about."

"Good, I need to talk to you, too." He swiveled away from his laptop, found a file in the piles on the desk.

"You go first," she told him.

"Hmm? Oh, fine." He scooped a hand through his hair, took off his glasses. Gestures she knew now meant he was organizing his thoughts.

"I've done just about all I can do here," he began. "I could spend months more on your family history, filling in details, moving back generations. In fact, I plan to do just that. But regarding the purpose for which you hired me, I'm at an impasse. She wasn't family, Roz. Not a Harper," he amended. "Not by birth, not through marriage. Absolutely none of the data - names, dates, births, marriages, deaths - nothing I have places a woman named Amelia in this house, or in the Harper family. No woman of her approximate age died in this house during the time period we've pinpointed."

"I see." She sat, wishing vaguely she'd thought to get coffee.

"Now, if Stella is mistaken regarding the name - "

"She isn't." Roz shook her head. "It's Amelia."

"I agree. But there's no Amelia Harper, by birth, by marriage, in any record. Oddly enough, considering the length of time this house has stood here, there's no record of any female in her twenties or thirties who died here. In the house. Older or younger, yes, a few."

He set the file on top of a pile. "Ah, one of the most entertaining deaths to occur here was back in 1859, one of your male ancestors, a Beauregard Harper, who broke his neck, and several other bones, falling off the second floor terrace. From the letters I've read describing the event, Beau was up there with a woman not his wife engaged in a sexual romp that got a little overenthusiastic. He went over the rail, taking his date with him. He was dead when members of the household reached him, but being a portly fellow, he broke the fall of the female houseguest, who landed on top of him and only suffered a broken leg."

"And terminal embarrassment, I imagine."

"Must have. I have the names of the women, the Harper women, who died here listed for you. I have some records on female servants who died here, but none fit the parameters. I got some information from the Chicago lawyer I told you about."

He began to dig for another file. "The descendant of the housekeeper during Reginald Harper's time. She actually discovered she had three ancestors who worked here - the housekeeper, the housekeeper's uncle who was a groundsman, and a young cousin who served as a kitchen maid. From this, I've been able to get you a detailed history of that family as well. While none of it applies, I thought you'd like to have it."

"Yes, I would."

"The lawyer's still looking for data when she has time, she's entrenched now. We could get lucky."

"You've done considerable work."

"You'll be able to look at the charts and locate your great-great-uncle's second cousin on his mother's side, and get a good sense of his life. But that doesn't help you."

"You're wrong." She studied the mountain of files, and the board, crowded with papers and photos and handwritten charts behind Mitch. "It does help me. It's something I should have seen to a long time ago. I should have known about the unfortunate and adulterous Beau, and the saloon-owning Lucybelle, and all the others you've brought to life for me."

She rose to go to the board and study the faces, the names. Some were as familiar as her own, and others had been virtual strangers to her.

"My father, I see now, was more interested in the present than the past. And my grandfather died while I was so young, I don't remember having him tell me family stories. Most of what I got was from my grandmother, who wasn't a Harper by birth, or from older cousins. I'd go through the old papers now and again, always meaning to make time to do more, read more. But I didn't."

She stepped back from the board. "Family history, everyone who came before matters, and until recently I haven't given them enough respect."

"I agree with the first part, but not the second. This house shows the great respect you have for your family. Essentially, what I'm telling you is I can't find her for you. I believe, from what I've observed, what I feel, Amelia is your ancestor. But she's not your family. I won't find her name in family documents. And I don't believe she was a servant here."

"You don't."

"Consider the time, the era, the societal mores. As a servant, it's certainly possible that she was impregnated by a member of the family, but it's doubtful she would have been permitted to remain on staff, to remain in the house during her pregnancy. She would've been sent away, given monetary compensation - maybe. But it doesn't hold for me."

After one last glance at the board, she walked back to her chair and sat. "Why not?"

"Reginald was head of the house. All the information I have on him indicates he was excessively proud, very aware of what we could say was his lofty standing in this area. Politics, business, society. To be frank, Roz, I don't see him banging the parlor maid. He'd have been more selective. Certainly, said banging could have been done by a relative, an uncle, a brother-in-law, a cousin. But my gut tells me the connection with Amelia's tighter than that."

"Which leaves?"

"A lover. A woman not his wife, but who suited his needs. A mistress."

She was silent for a long moment. "You know what I find interesting, Mitchell? That we've come, from different directions, to the same point. You've gone through so many reams of documents that it gives me a headache just to think of them. Phone calls, computer searches, courthouse searches. Graphs and charts and Christ only knows. And by doing all that you've not only given me a picture of my family I've never looked at, people whose names I didn't know, but who are, in a very real sense, responsible for my life. But you've eliminated dozens of possibilities, dozens of perhapses as to who this poor woman was, so that we can whittle it down to the right answer. Do you think, when we do, she'll have peace?"

"I don't know the answer to that. Why are you so sad? It rips me to see you so sad."

"I'm not entirely sure. This is what happened today," she said, and told him.

"I was so afraid." She took a long breath. "I was afraid the night she locked us out of the children's room, and when you and I came in from the terrace and she had that fit of temper, tossing things around. I was afraid that night in the tub, when she held me under. I thought I wouldn't be that afraid again. But today, today when I stood there watching her walk toward me over the field, through the fog, I was petrified. I saw her face, the madness in it, a kind of insane purpose. The sort, I think now, that overcomes even death."

She gave herself a little shake. "I know how that sounds, but I think that's what she's done, somehow. She's overcome death with madness, and she can't break free."

"She didn't touch you this time. She didn't hurt you?"

Roz shook her head. "Not even at the peak of her rage. I couldn't breathe - felt like I was drawing in dirt, but part of that might've been sheer panic on my part. She spoke of killing, bathing in blood. There's never been any talk of murder in this house, but I wonder - oh, God, could they have killed her? One of my family?"

"She was the one talking of doing murder," he reminded her, "not of being murdered."

"True, but you can't trust a crazy woman to have all the facts straight. She said I was her blood. Whether it's true or not, she believes it." She took a deep breath. "So do you."

He got up from the desk to come around to her. Taking her hands, he drew her out of the chair and into his arms. "What do you believe?"

Comfort, she thought as she rested her head on his shoulder. There could be such comfort in a man if you allowed yourself to take it. "She has my father's eyes. I saw it at the end today. I've never seen it before, maybe never let myself. Did he take her child, Mitch, my great-grandfather? Could he have been so cold?"

"If all this is fact, she could have given the baby up. They might have had an arrangement, and she came to regret it. There are still a lot of possibilities."

"I want to know the truth now. Have to know it, whatever it takes."

She drew back, managed a smile. "Just how the hell do we go about finding a woman who may have been my great-grandfather's lover?"

"We have a first name, an approximate age, and we assume she lived in the Memphis area. We start with that."

"Is that natural optimism, or are you trying to smooth my feathers?"

"Some of both."

"All right, then. I'm going to go pour myself a glass of wine. Do you want anything?"

"I could use about a gallon of water to offset the five gallons of coffee I'd downed today. I'll come with you." He draped an arm around her shoulders as they walked to the kitchen.

"I might have to put this aside until after Stella and Logan's wedding. It's snuck right up on me. Seems to me, however demanding the dead may be, the living ought to have priority." She got out a bottle of water and a fresh lemon. "I can't believe those boys aren't going to be part of the household in a few more days."

She poured and sliced, then offered him the glass.

"Thanks. I think they'll be around enough you'll feel like they are."

"I like to think." She poured her wine, but the phone rang before she took the first sip. "Where is David anyway?" she asked, and answered herself.

She listened for a moment, then smiled slowly at Mitch. "Hello, Jane," she said and lifted her wine in a toast.

"THIS IS SOexciting. It's like a spy thriller or something." Hayley bounced on her toes as she, Roz, and Stella rode the elevator up to Clarise Harper's apartment. "I mean, we spend the morning getting manicures and pedicures, and the afternoon sneaking around to hunt up secret documents. It's totally glamorous."

"Say that later if we're arrested and spending the night in jail with Big Bertha," Stella suggested. "If Logan has to marry me through jailhouse bars tomorrow, I'm going to be royally pissed."

"I told you not to come," Roz reminded her.

"And miss this?" After a bracing breath, Stella stepped off the elevator. "I may be fussy, but I'm no coward. Besides, Hayley has a point. It is exciting."

"Going into a crabby old woman's overfurnished apartment and taking away what's rightfully mine - along with a scared little rabbit - doesn't strike me as exciting. Jane could have gotten them out herself, saved us the trip. There's enough to do with the wedding tomorrow."

"I know, and I appreciate, so much, you giving us the day off so we could primp." On impulse, Stella kissed Roz's cheek. "We'll work twice as hard after the wedding to make up for it."

"You might just have to. Now just pray the old ghoul is out getting her hair permed, as advertised, or this will be ugly."

"Don't you sort of hope it is?" Hayley began, but the door creaked open. Jane peeked out through the crack.

"I . . . I didn't expect anyone but you, Cousin Rosalind. I don't know if we should - "

"They work for me. They're friends." With no patience for dithering or ado, Roz nudged the door open, stepped inside. "Jane, this is Stella and Hayley. Jane, did you pack all your things?"

"Yes, there isn't much. But I've been thinking, she's going to be so upset when she gets home and finds me gone. I don't know if I should - "

"This place is as horrible as ever," Roz observed. "Positively reeks of lavender. How do you stand it? That's one of our Dresden shepherdesses there, and that Meissan cat, and . . . screw it. Where are the diaries?"

"I didn't get them out. I didn't feel right - "

"Fine. Give me the key, show me where, and I'll get them. Let's not waste time, Jane," Roz added when the girl simply stood biting her bottom lip. "You have a new apartment waiting, a new job starting bright and early Monday morning. You can take them or leave them, your choice. But I'm not leaving this lavender-stinking apartment without what's mine by right. So you can give me the key, or I'll just start tossing things around until I find what I'm after."

"Oh, God. I feel sick." Jane dug into her pocket, pulled out an ornate brass key. "The desk in her room, top drawer." Pale as glass, she gestured vaguely. "I'm dizzy."

"Snap out of it," Roz suggested. "Stella, why don't you help Jane get her things?"

"Sure. Come on, Jane."

Trusting Stella to deal with the situation, Roz turned to Hayley. "Watch the door," she ordered.

"Oh, boy, hot damn. Lookout man."

Despite herself, Roz chuckled all the way into Clarise's bedroom. There was more lavender here, with an undertone of violets. The bed had a padded headboard of gold tufted silk, with an antique quilt Roz knew damn well had come out of Harper House. As had the occasional table by the window, and the art nouveau lamp.

"Pilfering old bitch," Roz grumbled and went directly to the desk. She turned the key, and couldn't quite hold back the gasp when she saw the stacks of old leather-bound journals.

"This is going to be a kick right in your bony ass," she decided and, opening the satchel she carried over her shoulder, carefully slid the books inside.

To make certain she had them all, she opened the rest of the drawers, riffled without qualm through the nightstands, the bureau, the chest of drawers.

Though she felt silly, she wiped off everything she'd touched. She wouldn't put it past Clarise to call the cops and claim burglary. Then she left the key, plainly in sight, on top of the desk.

"Stella took her down," Hayley announced when Roz stepped out. "She was shaking so hard we thought she might have like a seizure unless she got out of here. Roz, the poor thing only had one suitcase. She got everything she owned into one suitcase."

"She's young. She'll have plenty of time to get more. Did you touch anything in here?"

"No. I thought, you know, fingerprints."

"Smart girl. Let's go."

"You got them?"

Roz patted the satchel. "Easy as taking candy from a baby, which Clarise has been known to do."

It wasn't until they'd settled Jane into her apartment and were well on the way home that Roz noticed Hayley was uncharacteristically silent.

"Don't tell me you're having second thoughts, guilty qualms, whatever."

"What? Oh, no. No. Those journals are yours. If it'd been me, I'd have taken the other things that belonged to Harper House, too. I was thinking about Jane. I know she's younger than me, but not all that much. And she seems so, I don't know, fragile and scared about everything. Still, she did a brave thing, I guess."

"She didn't have what you had," Roz said. "Your gumption, for one, and a lot of that's just the luck of the draw. But she didn't have a father like yours. One who loved her and taught her, and gave her a secure and happy home. She doesn't feel strong and attractive, and you know you are."

"She needs a good haircut, and better clothes. Hey, Stella, wouldn't it be fun to make her over?"

"Down, girl."

"No, really. Later when we've got the time. But I was thinking, too, how she looked when she walked into that little apartment. How grateful and surprised she was that you'd sent some things over, Roz. Just basic things like a couch and bed, and food for the kitchen. I don't guess anyone's ever done anything for her, just to be decent. I felt so sorry for her, and happy for her at the same time, the way she looked around, all dazzled and weepy."

"Let's see what she does with it."

"You gave her the chance to do something. Just like you did with me, and Stella, too."

"Oh, don't start."

"I will. We all came to this corner, and you're the one who gave us a hand to get around it and start down the road. Now Jane's got a place of her own, and a new job. I've got a beautiful baby and a wonderful home for her. And Stella's getting married tomorrow."

She began to sniffle, and Roz rolled her eyes toward the rearview mirror. "Ireally mean don't start."

"I can't help it. I'm so happy. Stella's getting married tomorrow. And y'all are my best friends in the whole, wide world."

Stella passed tissues over the seat, and kept one out for herself.

THERE WERE SIXTEENjournals in all, five of her grandmother Elizabeth Harper's, and nine written by her great-grandmother Beatrice. And each was filled, first page to last.

There were some sketches as well, Roz noted on a quick flip-through - her grandmother's work. It made her feel warm to look at them.

But she didn't need Mitch to tell her that even though they had the books, the job of reading them and finding anything pertaining to Amelia was daunting.

"They're not dated." Rubbing her eyes, Stella leaned back on the sofa in the parlor. "From what I can tell at a quick glance, Beatrice Harper didn't use a journal per year, but simply filled each, however much time that involved, and moved to the next."

"So we'll sort them as best we can," Mitch said, "divide them up, and read each through."

"I hope I get a juicy one." Due to the circumstances, David had put together an elaborate high tea, and now helped himself to a scone.

"I'll want them all accounted for, at all times. But we have a wedding tomorrow. Stella, I don't want you to overdo it. I'm not going to be responsible for you getting married with circles under your eyes. Who could that be?" Roz said when the doorbell rang. "Everyone's here. No, sit, David. I'll get it."

She walked out with Parker prancing at her heels, barking as if to let her know he was on the job. When she opened the door, Roz's eyebrows winged up. And her smile was sharp as a blade.

"Why, Cousin Rissy, what an unpleasant surprise."

"Where is that useless girl, and my property?"

"I haven't the vaguest idea what you're talking about, and care even less." She noted her aunt had hired a sedan, and driver, for the trip from the city. "I suppose good manners dictate I ask you in, but I warn you, I'm not above arranging a strip search before you go - which would be traumatic for all parties - so don't even think about taking anything."

"You are, and always have been, a rude and dislikable creature."

"Isn't that funny?" Roz stepped back so Clarise could march into the foyer with her cane. "I was thinking the same thing about you. We're in the parlor, having tea." Roz stepped to the doorway. "Cousin Rissy is paying a call. Isn't that unfortunate? You may remember my son, Harper. You always enjoyed complaining about him incessantly on your other visits. And David, Harper's childhood friend who tends Harper House, and would have counted the silverware."

"I'm not interested in your sass."

"I have so little else to offer you. I believe you've also made the acquaintance of Dr. Carnegie."

"I have, and will be speaking to my lawyer about him."

He smiled broadly. "It's Mitchell Carnegie. Two els."

"This is Logan Kitridge, friend, neighbor, and employee, who is the fiance of Ms. Stella Rothchild, who manages my garden center."

"I have no interest in your motley arrangement of employees, or your questionable habit of crowding them into Harper House."

"These are her children, Gavin and Luke, and their dog, Parker," Roz continued as if Clarise hadn't spoken. "And a young cousin of mine, on the Ashby side, also an employee, Hayley Phillips, and her beautiful daughter, Lily. I believe that covers everyone. David, I suppose you'd better pour Clarise a cup of tea."

"I don't want tea, particularly any prepared and poured by a homosexual."

"It's not catching," David offered, unfazed.

"Why, David, you're a homosexual?" Roz feigned surprise. "How amazing."

"I try to be subtle about it."

"Where is Jane?" Clarise demanded. "I insist on speaking to her this instant."

Roz picked up a tiny cookie and gave it to a delighted Lily. "And Jane would be?"

"You know very well. Jane Paulson."

"Oh, of course, Cousin Jane. I'm afraid she's not here."

"I won't tolerate your lies." At her tone, Parker sent up a warning growl. "And keep that horrible little dog away from me."

"He'snot horrible." Gavin sprang up, and was immediately grabbed by his mother. "You're horrible."

"And if you're mean," Luke piped up, "he'll bite you, because he's a good dog."

"Gavin, you and Luke take Parker outside. Go on, now." Stella gave Gavin a little squeeze.

"Get the Frisbee," Logan suggested, with a wink for the boys. "I'll come out in a few minutes."

Gavin picked up the dog, scowling on the way out, and Luke stopped at the door. "We don't like you," he said and strode on his sturdy little legs behind his brother.

"I see your employees are no better equipped to raise well-mannered children than you, Rosalind."

"Apparently not. I'm so proud. Well, since you won't have tea, and I can't help you regarding Jane, you must want to be on your way."

"Where are the journals?"

"Journals? Do you mean the journals written by my grandmother and my great-grandmother that were taken out of this house without my permission?"

"Your permission was not required. I'm the oldest living Harper, and those journals are mine by right."

"We certainly disagree on that, but I can help you as to their location. They're back where they belong - morally, legally, and ethically."

"I'll have you arrested."

"Oh, please, try. Won't that be fun?" The dangerous iceberg was back as she sat on the arm of a chair, crossed her legs casually. "Won't you just relish having your name, the Harper family name, smeared all over the press, talked about all over the county?" Her eyes went hot, in direct contrast to the chill of her voice. "Because I'll see that it is. I'll grant every interview and discuss the whole unseemly mess over cocktails at every opportunity. Such things don't concern me."

She paused, leaning down to take the cookie Lily was holding up to her. "Why, thank you, sugar-pie. But you?" she said to Clarise. "I don't think you'll enjoy being the butt of gossip and innuendo and jokes. Particularly when it'll come to nothing. I have possession of what is my legal property."

She picked Lily up, set her on her knee, and gave the cookie back while the room remained silent but for Clarise's outraged breaths. Roz decided it was one of the rare times she could actually, and accurately, describe a scene with the phraseher bosom heaved .

It was glorious.

"If you want to have the police question how I came to regain possession, I'll be happy to tell them. And I hope you enjoy explaining to them how you had what belongs to Harper House, and therefore me, locked away in your desk. Along with several other expensive pieces that are catalogued as Harper House property."

"You'll dirty the family name!" Her face dark with rage, Clarise stepped forward. "You have no right. You have no business digging into what is best left buried."

Calmly Roz passed the baby to Mitch, where Lily babbled and generously offered to share her mangled cookie. She heard Mitch's murmured "Take her down, honey" as she got to her feet. "What are you afraid of? What did they do to her? Who was Amelia?"

"Nothing but a tramp, a low-class whore who got no more than she deserved. I knew, the minute you were born, that blood would tell in you. I see it has."

"So I am from her," Roz said quietly.

"I'll speak no more about it. It's a crime and a sin that a woman like you is mistress of this house. You have no right here, and never did. You're no-account, grasping, nothing but a blight on the family name. My grandmother would've set the dogs on you before she let your kind cross the threshold of Harper House."

"Okay, that's about enough." Before Roz could speak - and she had plenty to say - Harper was up and across the room. "You're leaving, and you're never coming through that door again."

"Don't you back-talk me, boy."

"I'm not eight anymore, and you're not welcome here. You think you can stand here and insult my mother? A woman with more class in one eyelash than you could cobble together out of every dried-up bone in your body? Now, I can show you the way out, or I can kick you out. Your choice."

"You're just like her."

"That's the first genuine thing you've said since you came in. This way,Cousin Rissy."

He took her arm and, though she tried to swat him away, led her out of the room.

There was a beat of silence, then Hayley's low whistle. "Go, Harper."

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