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It was a blustery morning.
The penetrating wind blowing in from the North Sea was laden with moisture, and the dampness was heavy on the air, and icy. Linnet O’Neill felt as though it were seeping into her bones.
She huddled further into her thick, loden green wool coat and tied her scarf tighter around her head. Then, thrusting her gloved hands into her pockets, she trudged on, doggedly following the winding path which would bring her to the crest of the moors.
After a moment she lifted her head and glanced up.
Above her, the arc of the sky appeared hollowed out, resembled the inside of a vast, polished bowl. It was the color of steel, its metallic grayness relieved by a few scudding clouds, pale and wispy in the clear, crystalline light so peculiar to these northern climes. It was an eerie light that seemed to emanate from some hidden source below the horizon.
When she’d set out to walk up into the high country which soared above Pennistone Royal, Linnet had anticipated rain, but the massed black clouds of earlier had been scuttled by the gusting wind.
Since she had lived here all her life, she knew about the weather and its unpredictability, knew that the skies of Yorkshire were ever-changing. By lunchtime the sun could easily be creeping out from behind the grayness to fill the heavens with radiance, or rain might be slashing down in a relentless stream.
You took your chances when you went walking on the Yorkshire moors. But she didn’t care. Ever since she had been a small child, these moors had been irresistible to her; she had loved to come here with her mother when she was little, to wander amongst the heather and the bracken, content to play alone with her stuffed animals in the vast emptiness surrounding her. It was her world; she had even believed it belonged to her, and in a way, she still did.
It was quiet on the moors this morning.
In the spring and summer, even in the autumn, there was always the splash and tinkle of water as it tumbled down over rock formations into pebble-strewn becks, and the whistling of little birds, the rapid whirring of their wings, was ever-present.
All were absent on this cold January Saturday. The birds had long ago flown off to warmer places, the becks had a layer of ice, and it was curiously silent as she climbed higher and higher, the land rising steeply.
Linnet missed the sounds of nature so prevalent in the summer months. To her there was nothing sweeter than the twittering and trilling of the songbirds as they wheeled and turned in the lucent air. On those lovely, balmy days it was a treat to come up here just to hear the choruses of the larks and linnets, often delivered with gusto from an exposed branch of a bramble bush. They loved those bushes, these little birds, as well as the gorse that grew on the moors, where they often made their nests or searched for seeds.
And on those days, in the sunlight and under cerulean skies, were the scurry of rabbits, the calls of larger birds, the scent of warm grass, wildflowers, bracken, and bil-berry mingling, all so sweet and redolent on the air. Then the moors were at their most beautiful, except for late August and September, when the heather bloomed and transformed the dun-colored hills into a rolling sea of royal purple and soft, muted greens.
Suddenly the wind became fiercer, buffeting her forward, and taken by surprise, she almost stumbled on the path but quickly regained her balance. No wonder the wildlife has gone to ground, or gone away, she thought, and she couldn’t help asking herself if she had been foolish to come out in this bitter cold weather.
But whenever she returned to Pennistone Royal, even after only a short absence, she headed for the moors at the first opportunity. When she was walking across them, she felt at peace and at ease with herself. Up here she could collect her thoughts and sort things out. Most especially if she was troubled. These days her troubles centered on her sister, Tessa, who had become her rival in various ways, especially at Harte’s, the store where they both worked.
It pleased her to know that she was home again, in the place where she truly belonged.
Her mother also loved the moors, but only in the spring and summer months; Paula did not entirely share her daughter’s feelings about this wild and desolate landscape in the winter, considered by some to be the bleakest country in England at this time of year.
It was her father, Shane O’Neill, who had a deep affinity for the high country all year round and a rare, almost tender love of nature. She always thought of her father as a true Celt, a throwback to a much earlier century, and it was he who had nurtured her own love of the outdoors, of wild things, and of the flora and fauna which abounded in Yorkshire.
She knew from her mother that her great-grandmother had been just as passionate about the moors as she was, and had spent a considerable amount of time on them. “Whenever she was troubled, Grandy headed for her beloved moors,” her mother had told Linnet years ago. Linnet fully understood why they had given Grandy such solace; after all, she had been born in one of the moor villages, had grown up in the Pennine hills.
Her great-grandmother was the renowned Emma Harte, a legend in her own time; people who had known Emma said she was like her. Linnet laughed somewhat dismissively, but secretly she was thrilled. Who wouldn’t want to be favorably compared with that most extraordinary woman, who single-handedly had created a family dynasty and a business empire circling the globe?
Her mother said Linnet was a chip off the old block because she had considerable business acumen and a talent for merchandising and retailing. “Just like Grandy,” Paula would point out constantly, and with a proud smile.
Linnet felt warm inside when she thought about her mother, Paula McGill Harte Amory Fairley O’Neill. She was a very special person, and fair and just in her dealings with everyone, whatever others might believe. As for Linnet’s father, he was awesome.
Linnet had always enjoyed a most harmonious relationship with Shane, and they had drawn even closer after Patrick’s death ten years ago. Her elder brother had died of a rare blood disease when he was seventeen, and they had all mourned the sweet-natured Patrick, retarded from birth but so loving and caring. He had been every-body’s favorite; each of them, especially Linnet, had protected and nurtured him in her or his own way. She still missed him, missed mothering him.
As she tramped on, moving ever upward, Linnet noticed tiny icicles dripping from the bramble bushes; the ground was hard as iron. It was becoming colder now that she was almost at the summit, and the wind was raw. She was glad she was wearing warm clothes and boots, and a woolen scarf around her head.
Just as she knew it would, the path suddenly rose sharply, and she felt her calves tightening as she climbed higher. Within minutes she was puffing hard, so she paused to rest. Peering ahead, she realized she was only a few feet from the crest; there, a formation of jagged black rocks jutted up into the sky like some giant monolith erected as a monument to an ancient Celtic god.
Once she had suggested to Gideon Harte, her cousin and best friend, that the monolith was man-made, perhaps even by the Celts themselves. Or the Druids. But Gideon, who was well informed about a lot of things, had immediately dismissed that idea. He had explained that the black boulders piled so precariously on their pedestal had been carried there by a vast glacier during the Ice Age, long before man had existed in Britain. Then he had pointed out that the rocks had been sitting there for aeons and aeons, and therefore were not actually precariously balanced. They merely looked as if they were.
Anxious to reach the top, Linnet set off again, and suddenly there she was, stepping onto the plateau to stand in the shadow of the monolith floating immediately above her. Its pedestal of limestone, formed by nature millennia ago, was an odd shape, with two pieces protruding on either side of a tall, flat slab, which was set back. Thus was created a narrow niche, a niche protected from the winds that blew at gale force up here on the high fells.
Years ago Emma had placed a boulder in the niche, and this served as a makeshift bench. Linnet sat down on it, as she always did, and gazed out at the vista in front of her. Her breath caught in her throat; she never ceased to be awed by this panoramic spread. Her eyes roamed across bare, untenanted fells, windswept under the lowering sky, stark, implacable, and lonely, yet she never felt lonely or afraid up here. The wild beauty of the moors filled her with wonder, and she relished the solitude, found it soothing.
Far below her Linnet could see the pastures of the Dales, their verdant lushness temporarily obliterated in this harsh weather. The fields were gleaming whitely, covered as they were with winter frost, and the river flowing through the bucolic valley was a winding, silver rope that glittered in the cold northern light.
And there, in the center, sitting amidst the peaceful meadows punctuated by drystone walls, was Pennistone Royal, that ancient and stately house acquired by Emma Harte in 1932, almost seventy years ago. In the years she had lived there, Emma had turned it into the most magical of places. The grounds were extensive and picturesque. Lawns rolled down to the river, and in the spring and summer months the flower beds and shrubs were ablaze with riotous color.
But there were no roses anywhere in those lovely rambling gardens. It was a family legend that Emma Harte had detested roses because she had been spurned by Edwin Fairley in the rose garden at Fairley Hall. On that day, when she was just a young girl, she had told Edwin she was carrying his child. In his panic, and fearing his powerful father, Adam Fairley, he had repudiated her. He had offered her a few shillings; she had asked to borrow a suitcase.
Emma had run away. From her family and Fairley village, nestling in the shadow of the Pennine Chain of hills. She had traveled to Leeds to find her dear friend Blackie O’Neill, whom she knew would help her.
And of course he had. He had taken her to live with his friend Laura Spencer, later his wife, who had looked after her until Edwina was born. It was then that Emma Harte made a vow: She would become a rich and powerful woman to protect herself and her child. She had worked like a drudge to accomplish this, and as it happened, everything she touched had turned to gold.
Linnet’s grandfather Bryan O’Neill had told her that her great-grandmother had never once looked back. As a young woman she had gone from success to success, reaching even higher, always attaining the seemingly impossible, becoming a true woman of substance in every way.
According to Linnet’s grandfather, Emma had apparently never forgotten that horrible day in the rose garden at Fairley Hall. Her senses had been swimming, and she had vomited violently when she was alone. Emma had blamed her attack of nausea on the roses, and for the rest of her life she had felt overcome when she smelled them.
Out of deference to her beloved grandy, Paula had never permitted roses to be grown at Pennistone Royal, nor were they used in floral arrangements in the house. Emma’s ruling still held.
Linnet had been born in her great-grandmother’s house twenty-five years ago, in the middle of May. Her grandmother Daisy had inherited Pennistone Royal from Emma. But she had immediately gifted it to her daughter, Paula, because Daisy preferred to live in London, and also to save death duties later. Paula had lived there since Emma’s death. The house meant more to Linnet than any other place on earth; even though she worked in London during the week, she came up to Yorkshire every weekend.
This past November, Paula had taken Linnet into her confidence about a matter close to Paula’s heart. “Grandy made a rule years ago,” she explained. “And it was this… Pennistone Royal must go to the one who loves it the most, as long as that person has the intelligence and the knowledge to look after the estate properly. I know that Tessa, as the eldest, believes I’m going to leave it to her, but I just can’t, Linnet. She doesn’t even like the house and grounds, they’re meaningless to her. She’s only concerned with what they represent in terms of power and prestige in the family. That’s certainly not what Grandy wanted or intended.” Paula had shaken her head and gone on: “Lorne has no interest in the house, and Emsie cares only about her stables.”
A loving smile had crossed her mother’s face as she continued. “I doubt she’ll ever change, bless her heart. And as for Desmond, he’ll have his grandfather’s house in Harrogate one day, when Grandfather Bryan is gone.”
Her mother had reached out and taken her hand, saying, “And so I am planning to leave Pennistone Royal to you, Linnet, because I know how much it means to you, how much you really care. But not a word to anyone about this. Understand, darling?”
Linnet had thanked her mother profusely, and promised not to betray her confidence. She fully understood the ramifications. But Paula’s words had startled her; her mother’s intention was the last thing she had expected. Deep down she was thrilled, but she did not like to dwell on anything she might one day inherit, especially if it involved her mother and father. She wanted them to have long lives.
Leaning back against the limestone slab in the niche, Linnet sighed, still dwelling on Paula’s words. There would be trouble with Tessa if she ever found out about their mother’s intentions.
It was true that Tessa did not have any genuine feelings for the house and the estate, but she did covet them, greed being one of her least attractive traits. And Paula was correct, Lorne wouldn’t care at all. London was his bailiwick; he rarely came north anymore, except for special family occasions and holidays. He was caught up in the world of the West End theater, where he was a successful and popular young actor. He was truly dedicated to his career, and unlike his twin sister, Lorne was not avaricious or combative. He had a loving, gentle heart and had often been Linnet’s fierce and loyal champion against Tessa. This did not mean he did not love Tessa, because he really did. Like most twins, he and Tessa were very close and saw a lot of each other. Put simply, Lorne was not particularly interested in his mother’s business, nor did he have a desire to inherit any part of it. Tessa was welcome to it.
As for the two youngest of the O’Neill brood, they didn’t figure in the scheme of things as far as Tessa was concerned. Emsie was a dreamy-eyed girl, rather whimsical, with an artistic nature. Linnet thought of her as a true Celt, like their father. Possessions were of no consequence to Emsie; she loved her horses and her dogs more than new dresses and pretty things. Nonsenses, she called the latter, and rather disdainfully, preferring to muck out the stables in a pair of jeans and an old sweater.
Linnet smiled inwardly, reflecting on her sister, of whom she was extremely protective and whom she loved dearly. Emsie, at seventeen, was vulnerable and sensitive, but also riotously funny when she wanted to amuse the family. Named for Emma Harte, she had become Emsie a few days after her birth, her parents suddenly realizing that there was no room for another Emma in the family. The Emma who was dead still dominated them all.
The last-born child of the O’Neills was the son Linnet’s father had yearned for, especially after Patrick’s death. Desmond, who was now fifteen, was the spitting image of Shane: six feet tall, dark haired, and ruggedly handsome, he was looking very grown-up already.
Linnet had always thought Desmond was the most gorgeous child, and he was turning into a stunning young man. There was no doubt in her mind that women were going to fall at his feet like ninepins, as they apparently had at her father’s before he was married to their mother. Desmond was the apple of Shane’s eye and the much-desired heir to the O’Neill hotel empire founded by Blackie and built up into a worldwide company by Bryan O’Neill and his only son, Shane, who ran it today.
Funnily enough, Tessa had always been rather taken with Desmond, favoring her youngest half brother over her O’Neill half sisters. “Mostly, that’s because he doesn’t represent a threat to her,” Linnet had said to Gideon recently, and her cousin had nodded. “But he is irresistible,” Gideon had thought to add.
Excerpted from Emma's Secret by Barbara Taylor Bradford.
Copyright 2004 by Beaji Enterprises, Inc.
Published in 2004 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.