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The old brass knocker on the paneled front door needed polishing, Cara thought, glancing at it as she swept the windblown leaves off the wide veranda. She made a face. One more thing to do before the family began to arrive for Aunt Garnet's party. Another reminder of how she'd neglected keeping Montclair to its old level of perfection. But they never used the front entrance anymore. Hardly ever had what you'd call company.
Recently they had all been so busy. Kip at the airfield as an instructor, she giving riding lessons, trying to keep up the stables with little help and less money.
With Aunt Garnet's visit, she now had to get busy, get things in order. Especially since she had volunteered to host the birthday dinner party at Montclair. Cara shook her head ruefully. Another one of those reckless impulses that had got her into trouble most of her life. But Garnet had come here as the bride of Bryce Montrose, her first husband, and it somehow seemed appropriate to have the party here.
Thank goodness Kitty would be here to help. Of course, Kitty would notice every single thing that needed doing! Kitty was as opposite Cara as a twin sister could be.
With a final swoop of the broom, Cara went inside. Looking around herself and seeing the house through her sister's eyes, Cara realized that it badly needed a great deal of attention.
When she had first come here after marrying Kip in Paris five years ago, she had had the best of intentions. She remembered the dismay and discouragement she felt when she had opened the door of Montclair. But she shouldn't have been surprised. Kip and Luc had lived here alone after Mattie, their longtime housekeeper, retired.
The house had become a repository of museum-quality pieces alongside wicker sets that needed both repairing and repainting. Fan-backed Victorian chairs with curved legs and shredded velvet upholstery were set opposite worn leather Morris recliners. Priceless mahogany Duncan Phyfe tables bore white circles where glasses had been carelessly placed. Fine portraits hung slightly askew, their elaborate gold frames covered with dust.
Cara had had her work cut out for her. Not that keeping a perfect house or entertaining was something she had wanted to spend the rest of her life doing. But some semblance of order had to be made of that chaos to be able to have a home where children could live and grow up in some sort of normal fashion.
She had been sure there would be children besides Nicole, the little French orphan she had brought back to Virginia, and Luc, Kip's son by his first marriage. Cara had wanted a whole houseful of little Montroses running about. However, there hadn't been the slightest sign that this dream would be fulfilled, and by now Cara had given up hope. After all, she was nearly forty. She had started to wonder if they should think of adoption.
Well, that decision was for a less hectic day. First things first.
Cara made a slow walk through the downstairs, but her mind couldn't seem to stay in one place. She kept thinking of Paris and how it had been for them. Lost in thoughts of the past, she did not hear the back door open or Kip's footsteps. He had left his boots outside and was in his stocking feet. He came up behind where she was standing, encircled her waist, and kissed her cheek.
Startled, she twisted around and pushed him a little away, saying, "You scared me, sneaking up on me like that!"
"I live here!" he said in mock protest. "Can't I walk into my own house, kiss my own wife?"
Trying to recover her composure, she asked, "Where's Luc?"
"With Niki. They're feeding the ducks," he told her and released her.
"You'd better shower and change," she said. "I'm not sure when Kitty will get here."
Kip started toward the stairway and then turned back, "Oh, by the way, Beau and Tim are coming for supper."
Cara bit back the words she had almost flung at him Why didn't you let me know? It was, after all, Kip's home. He could invite whomever he wanted here. She just wished Then she remembered she'd put in a roast earlier. Having dinner guests just meant cutting up more vegetables, potatoes.
Beau Chartyrs and Tim Pratney were fellow flyers, friends of long standing. Tim had been with Kip in the Lafayette Esquadrille, the squad of American volunteers who had flown for France in the war. The two of them had been among the very few survivors of that group. They shared memories, a love of flying, a friendship that was bonded in steel, a camaraderie that would last a lifetime.
That's OK, isn't it?" Kip asked.
"Sure," Cara said over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen.
She took some potatoes to the sink and began scrubbing them, her mind still occupied with Aunt Garnet's coming visit. For as long as she could remember, the old lady had caused ripples. Garnet had never got over being the prettiest belle in Mayfield, a pampered daughter and wife used to having her own way. She still liked to have her way, even if it meant manipulating other people's lives. Poor Bryanne. She was probably in for it this time.
Kitty Traherne took the turn off the highway, drove through Main Street, then onto the familiar country road. Her neck felt tight and her back ached. The drive from Williamsburg was long and depressing. So much of what had been quaint and picturesque about the countryside seemed to have vanished. Of course, Rockefeller money was restoring Williamsburg to its Colonial beginnings, or so it was rumored. But Mayfield looked dreary, its buildings drab, run-down. The depression had taken its toll, and there was no northern multimillionaire interested in a small, out-of-the-way, rural Virginia town of no particular significance.