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At the funeral of Texas tycoon Dean Lawson, his daughter Abbie saw a shocking sight: a woman who was her exact double. She learned the woman was her father's love child. Fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. "Reader's will be glad they've gone along for the ride."--Chicago Sun-Times.
Sunlight pierced the thick canopy formed by the branching limbs of the oak trees and dappled the century-old marble monument that laid claim to this section of the Houston cemetery as the Lawson family plot. Cut in the shape of an ancient obelisk, the monument had been erected more than one hundred years ago to watch over the graves of the first Lawsons to be buried in Texas -- and to commemorate the Lawsons who had died far from their East Texas home while proudly serving the Confederacy. Again mourners had gathered, and the hallowed ground was opened to receive the body of yet another member of the family, Robert Dean Lawson, Jr., known to all as Dean.
The suddenness of her father's death -- for Abbie, that had been the hardest. An accident, the police had said. He'd been driving too fast and missed a curve. Ironically, he'd been on his way home from the airport, returning from a business trip to Los Angeles. Killed on impact, Abbie had been told, as if that made his death easier to accept.
It hadn't. The pain, the regret came from not having the chance to talk to him one last time, to tell him how very much she loved him, and maybe... just maybe... hearing him say that he loved her. It sounded so silly, so childish to admit that, yet it was true. She was twenty-seven years old, but she still hadn't outgrown the need for her father's love. No matter how she had tried to get close to him, something had always stood between them, and years of battering hadn't broken down the wall.
Numb with grief, Abbie lifted her glance from her father's closed casket, draped in a blanket of Texas yellow roses, and scanned the crowd massed around thegrave for the services. Admittedly the turnout wasn't as large as the one at her grandfather's funeral nineteen years ago. Even the governor had come to it. But that was to be expected. Her grandfather R. D. Lawson had been one of the pioneers in the petroleum industry. He was the one who had refilled the family coffers after they had been virtually emptied during those terrible years of Reconstruction that had followed the Civil War. Bold, shrewd, and very sure of himself -- that's the way Abbie remembered him, even though she'd been a child, barely eight years old, when he died. Judging from the stories she had heard, he had been a colorful and charming character, and occasionally ruthless about getting what he wanted. In those early days in the oil business, sometimes a man had to be.
But the Lawsons weren't oil millionaires. Whenever people insinuated as much to Abbie -- christened Abigail Louise Lawson after her grandfather's mother -- she loved to steal her grandfather's famous line: "Not oil, honey. We made our money in mud." The started expressions on their faces always made her laugh. Then she would explain that mud waste term given to drilling fluids that were pumped into a well to soften up the ground for the drill bit, carry off the tailings, and maintain pressure to prevent a blowout. In the early days of rotary drilling in the oil fields, a mixture of clay and water -- literally mud -- was pumped into the hole. Later, additives such as barite and bentonite were included in the mixture to increase its weight. In the late 1920s, after working in the booming Texas oil fields, R. D. Lawson came up with his own formula for "mud" and marketed it himself, starting a company that he eventually built into a multimillion-dollar corporation.
Following her grandfather's death and the subsequent sale of the company by her father, the Lawson family's role in Houston had changed considerably. No longer were they members of the vast petroleum industry. Without the company's power base, their influence on the oil community was minimal, reduced to long-standing friendships with former associates of R.D. However, with the family's wealth and heritage, they had remained a major part of the Houston social scene, as evidenced by the number of prominent Texans among the crowd of mourners.
Looking at all the well-known faces, Abbie thought it was odd the way one took note of such things at a time like this, as if the living needed an affirmation of the importance of the loved one who had died -- an affirmation that could only be measured by the number of influential people who came to the funeral.
Catching a movement out of the corner of her eye as her mother slipped a silver lace handkerchief underneath the black veil of her hat and dabbed at the tears in her eyes, Abbie started to turn to her. At almost the same instant, she noticed the young woman standing near the memorial obelisk, a woman so eerily familiar that Abbie had to take a second look. She stared at her in shock, the blood draining from her face. The resemblance was uncanny.
"Now let us pray," the minister intoned, bowing his head as he stood before the closed casket. "O Lord, we have gathered here today to lay to rest the body of your servant, Dean Lawson, beloved husband and father..."
Abbie heard the minister's call to prayer, but the words didn't register. She was too stunned by the sight of the woman in the crowd. It isn't possible. It can't be, she thought wildly, suppressing the shudder caused by the chills running up her spine.
As the woman stood with her head slightly bowed, a breeze stirred the mass of lustrous nut-brown hair about her face -- the same rich shade of hair as Abbie's. But it was the color of the woman's eyes that had Abbie completely unnerved. They were a brilliant royal blue, fathomless as the ocean depths -- the same vivid color as her own. "Lawson blue," her grandfather had called it, boasting that it meant their eyes were "bluer than a Texas bluebonnet."
Abbie had the distinct feeling that she was looking into an imperfect mirror and seeing a faintly distorted image of herself. It was a strange sensation. Unconsciously she raised a hand to her own hair, verifying that it was still sleeked back into its French twist and not falling loose about her shoulders like the woman's across the way. Who was she?
With the question echoing over and over again in her mind, Abbie leaned closer to Benedykt Jablonski, the manager of the Arabian stud farm at River Bend, the Lawson family home southwest of Houston. Before she could ask him about the woman who was virtually her double, a murmured chorus of "Amens" signaled the conclusion of the graveside services, and the previously motionless throng of mourners began to stir. Abbie lost sight of the woman. One second she was there, and in the next she was gone. Where? How could she disappear so quickly? Who was she?
As the minister approached their chairs, her mother stood up, the black veil screening her wet eyes. Abbie rose to stand beside her, as always feeling protective toward this slender reed of a woman, her mother, Babs Lawson. Like her father, Abbie had made it a practice, from the time she was a child, to shield her mother from anything unpleasant. Babs just couldn't cope with problems. She preferred to look the other way and pretend they didn't exist, as if that would make them miraculously vanish.
Not Abbie. She preferred to confront situations head-on and usually led with her chin, mostly due to that Lawson pride and stubbornness that she had inherited in abundance. Just as now, unable to shake the image of that woman from her mind, she scanned the faces of the people milling about the grave, vaguely aware of the words of condolence offered by the minister to her mother, but intent on locating the woman who looked so much like her. She had to be here somewhere.
Instinctively she turned to Benedykt Jablonski, seeking his help as she had done nearly her entire life. Dressed in a tweed suit that was nearly as old as he was, he held his small-billed cap in front of him. His thick, usually unruly iron-gray hair was slickly combed into a semblance of order.
Age had drawn craggy lines in his face and faded his dark hair, but it hadn't diminished the impression that he was a bulwark of strength. Nothing ever seemed to faze him. Considering all he'd been through during World War II, with the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland and the immediate postwar years under Soviet control, perhaps that wasn't so surprising.
Now, standing next to his solidness, Abbie recalled the way she used to say that everything about this man was square: his jaw, chin, shoulders -- and his attitude. Yet Ben had been the steadying influence in her life. It was to him she'd gone as a child with all her questions and problems.
A solemn man who seldom smiled, he studied her briefly, reading her body language the way she'd seen him do so many times with a young Arabian colt in training. "What is wrong?" His voice carried the guttural accent and the lyrical rhythm of his native Poland.
"A moment ago, there was a woman standing near the family marker. Did you see her?"
"No," he replied, automatically glancing in the direction of the monument. "Who was she?"
"I don't know," Abbie replied, frowning as she again skimmed the faces of the people milling about. She knew she hadn't imagined the woman. Absently she ran a hand across her waist, discreetly smoothing the black Chanel dress, the crepe de Chine soft and silky to the touch. Determined to find the woman, she turned back to Ben and said, "Stay close to Momma for me, Ben."
But Abbie didn't wait to hear his reply as she moved out among the graveside gathering, pausing to speak with this person, accepting the press of hands in sympathy from another, nodding smiling faintly, murmuring appropriate responses -- all the while looking for the woman she'd seen so briefly.
Just as she was about to decide the woman had left the cemetery, Abbie saw her standing on the fringe of the crowd. Again she felt unnerved by the striking resemblance between them. Next to her stood the gray-haired Mary Jo Anderson, her father's longtime legal secretary, who had more or less run his limited law practice single-handedly over the years. Shocked and confused, Abbie stared at the two of them. What was Mary Jo doing with her? Did she know her?
Fingers closed around her arm as a man's deep voice came from somewhere close by. "Miss Lawson? Are you all right?"
"What?" Turning, she looked blankly at the tall, dark-haired man now beside her gripping her arm.
"I said, are you all right?" His mouth quirked slightly, lifting one corner of his dark mustache in a faint smile that was both patient and gentle, but his narrowed eyes were sharp in their study of her.
"I'm... fine," she said, mentally trying to shake off her abstraction as she stared at his rough-hewn features, conscious that there was something vaguely familiar about him.
Remembering the woman, she glanced back over her shoulder to locate her. The man curved a supporting arm around the back of her waist. "You'd better sit down." He started guiding her in the opposite direction.
Abbie stiffened in resistance. "I told you I'm fine." But she was propelled along by his momentum to a nearby folding chair. There she took a determined stand and blocked his attempt to seat her. "I feel fine," she insisted again.
Eyeing her skeptically, he cocked his head to one side and let his hands fall away from her. "You don't look fine. As a matter of fact, Miss Lawson, a minute ago, you looked like hell."
It was his bluntness more than the sight of Mary Jo Anderson walking away from the gravesite alone that caused Abbie to center her whole attention on him. She thought she had learned to hide her feelings over the years. Perhaps she hadn't -- or maybe he was just more observant than most.
Either way, Abbie tried to cover her previous reaction. "It was probably the heat."
"It is hot," he acknowledged with a faint nod of his head, but Abbie suspected that he didn't think the stifling afternoon heat was to blame. As his gaze moved lazily over her face, its look still sharp and inspecting, the action reinforced the feeling that she'd met him somewhere before -- and he'd been just as thorough in his study of her that time, too.
"I am all right, though. Thanks anyway for your concern..." She paused, unable to supply his name.
"Wilder. MacCrea Wilder." The name didn't ring any familiar note with her and he seemed to sense that. "We met briefly this past spring, in your father's office."
Her memory jogged, Abbie suddenly could see him taking up most of the big leather armchair in her father's private office, the look of irritation that had crossed his face when she had barged in unannounced, interrupting their meeting, and the way he'd leaned back in the chair and watched her while absently rubbing a forefinger back and forth across his mustache and upper lip. That afternoon he'd been dressed in a khaki shirt with the cuffs turned back and the collar unbuttoned at the throat, revealing a faint smattering of chest hairs. She remembered the ropes of muscles in his forearms, the slick look of bronzed skin, and the breadth of his shoulders. But there had been something else, too. She frowned, trying to recall the thing that eluded her. She breathed in and accidentally inhaled the musky fragrance of his masculine cologne.
"Oil." Mixed in with the aroma of her father's pipe tobacco had been the smell of the oil fields. "Wasn't that what you were talking to my father about?"
"Indirectly. I'm flattered you remember."
"Are you?" Somehow he didn't seem to be the type to be influenced by compliments one way or the other.
"Who wouldn't be flattered to have a beautiful woman remember him from a chance meeting?"
"I could name a few." Abbie wasn't fooled by his smooth charm, any more than she was fooled by hard muscles. She was usually good at sizing up people.
"Your ex-husband, for instance?"
Automatically Abbie covered the bare ring finger on her left hand. The platinum wedding rings, dominated by a brilliant three-carat sapphire encircled with diamonds -- the very set she had chosen at Tiffany's after she and Christopher John Atwell had romantically breakfasted outside the Fifth Avenue store in New York -- no longer adorned her third finger. Ten months ago, she had thrown them at him and watched the intertwined pair tumble to the floor and break apart -- like their disastrous six-year marriage. She had walked out of their home on Lazy Lane in Houston's River Oaks section that very afternoon, moving home to River Bend and taking back her maiden name. Certain things in her life she regretted, but the end of her marriage wasn't one of them.
Still, she resented his trespass into her personal life. "You seem to know a great deal about me, Mr. Wilder," she replied, challenging him ever so faintly.
"As I recall you had received your final divorce decree that day and wanted to celebrate. A man doesn't exactly forget when a young -- and strikingly attractive -- woman announces her availability."
Until now she had forgotten the reason she had barged into her father's office that day. "You remember?" she said, her tone softening. "I'm flattered."
She looked at him with new interest, surprised at the quick way he had picked up the cue and turned her own words back to her. A part of her felt alive for the first time since she had received the news of her father's death, but only briefly. She couldn't escape the soberness of this occasion, not with her father's closed casket still visible and the oppressively hot air heavy with the sweet scent of roses.
MacCrea glanced at the brass-encrusted coffin. "I want you to know how sorry I am about your father's death."
Abbie regretted the return to trite phrases -- and equally trite responses. "Thank you. And thank you for caring."
The instant he walked away she felt his absence, but she didn't have an opportunity to dwell on it. Someone else was waiting to offer her more words of sympathy, and Abbie began making the rounds once more, but her gaze was always moving, searching for that woman, still wondering who she was.
Rachel Farr watched her from a distance, observing the grace and assurance with which she moved through the crowd. It was that expensive little black dress that did it, Rachel decided -- so simple yet so elegant, with its black satin accents at the cuffs, placket, and mandarin collar. Or maybe it was the way she wore her hair -- all swept up in that sophisticated French twist that made her look so stylish and poised. She certainly didn't appear to be suffering from the heat and humidity the way Rachel was. Her dress wasn't sticking to her skin and her hair wasn't damp with perspiration like Rachel's. Rachel had expected the heat, but not the humidity. Texas was supposed to be dry, brown, and flat. Houston was flat, but lushly green and obviously wet.
Rachel glanced down at the single red rose she held clutched in her hand. Its velvety petals were already drooping from the heat. She'd bought it at the flower cart in the terminal of Houston Intercontinental Airport shortly after she'd arrived from California yesterday afternoon. She wanted to place it on Dean's coffin as a symbol of her love for him, yet she was afraid to make this one simple gesture.
Last night she'd gone to the funeral home, but she hadn't found the courage to go inside, fearing the family's reaction and reluctant to cause a scene. And today, she'd sat outside the church while they held services for Dean inside, wanting to be there, yet oddly feeling too unclean to attend. Finally, she had followed the procession of Lincolns, Mercedes, Rollses, and Cadillacs to the cemetery on the edge of town.
Over and over she kept thinking that if his secretary hadn't telephoned her, no one would have notified her of Dean's death. It might have been days, weeks, perhaps months before she'd found out otherwise. She had tried to express her gratitude to Mrs. Anderson, but she had sensed how awkward and uncomfortable the woman felt with her at the funeral.
It wasn't fair. She had loved Dean, too. Surely his family could understand that she wanted to grieve with them and share the pain of their mutual loss. She'd had so little of him and they'd had so much. She would place the rose on his coffin. She didn't care what they thought.
Not giving herself a chance to have second thoughts, she set out quickly, walking blindly along the narrow strip of ground that separated the rows of graves. Her low heels sank into the thick carpet of grass that covered the ground as she moved in and out of the dappling shade cast by the towering oak trees that stood guard over the dead. It seemed as though she was traveling in a vacuum, encapsulated by a grief that dulled her senses, the sights and sounds of her surroundings making little impression on her.
Yet, despite all the hurt and suffering she felt, Rachel was conscious of the irony of the moment. Since she'd been able to have only small pieces of his life, it was fitting somehow that she was only allowed a small piece of his death. But just as she had railed at the inequity of the former, she cried over it now. There was nothing she could do that would change it. Dean was the only one who had possessed the power to do that, and he was dead.
Suddenly the casket was before her, draped in a blanket of sun-yellow roses. Rachel stopped beside it and hesitantly laid the wilted red rose on top of it. The bloom looked so forlorn and out of place she wanted to cry. She blinked at the tears that stung her eyes and trailed her fingers over the edge of the casket in a last good-bye as she turned away. When she looked up, she saw Abbie standing a scant fifteen feet away, staring at her with a confused and wary frown. For a split second, Rachel was tempted to hurry away, as if she were guilty of something. She wasn't. So why should she run? Gathering her fragile pride, Rachel lifted her chin a little higher and started forward at the same instant that Abbie did.
They met midway. Abbie spoke first. "Who are you?' Should I know you?" Her voice was lightly laced with a soft Texas drawl, like Dean's. Rachel noticed that she was taller than Abbie by a good four inches, but it didn't make her feel superior in any way, only awkward and gauche.
"I'm Rachel. Rachel Farr from Los Angeles."
"From Los Angeles?" Abbie's frown deepened, "Daddy had just returned from there.
"I know." Realizing that Abbie had absolutely no idea who she was, Rachel suddenly felt very bitter and hurt. "Dean used to say we looked a lot alike. I suppose we do, in a way."
"Who are you?" she demanded again.
"I'm his daughter."
Abbie recoiled in shock and anger. "That's impossible. I'm his daughter, his only child."
But Abbie didn't want to hear any more of her preposterous lie. "I don't know who you are or what you're doing here," she declared, struggling to keep her voice down, "but if you don't leave now -- this very minute -- I'll have you thrown out of this cemetery."
Copyright © 1987 by Janet Dailey
Posted December 12, 2012
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