- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
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."
"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?"
"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."
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold