House of Dreams (De Warenne Dynasty Series)by Brenda Joyce
Offering edge-of-your-seat suspense, lush sensuality, and richly faceted characters, Brenda Joyce's novels have appeared on bestseller lists from The New York Times to USA Today. In her newest novel, she presents the fascinating story of two families who have clashed for centuries-and two women who dare to explore the dark side of passion and a legacy of betrayal that leads to cold-blooded murder...
When Cassandra de Warenne's sister Tracey arranges a lavish party at their English estate, she invites Antonio de la Barca, a renowned professor of history. Cass isn't prepared for the intense and immediate attraction-an attraction that heralds something deeper, more powerful, and more perilous than she could ever imagine. For their families have been entwined for centuries, linked together by a history of horrendous heartbreak, bitter rivalry, and bloodshed that began 450 years ago, with one woman, Isabel, forsaken and betrayed by her family, her lover, and her friends. Intrigued by the prospect of unearthing more about this legend, Cassandra accepts an invitation to Antonio's ancestral home. But soon after she and her family arrive, Cassandra discovers that Isabel is a very real-and threatening-presence. Who was Isabel, and what does she want today from Cassandra and her sister? And can Cassandra trust Antonio, a man who may be her only link to the past-and who may lead her into danger?
Author Biography: BRENDA JOYCE is The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty novels. She lives in New York City.
Myriad twists and turns."Booklist
"The is one book you won't want to miss."Beachlife
Read an Excerpt
Belford House, East Sussex the Present
Just where the hell was her sister?
Cass had spent most of her life in her sister's shadowTracey was one of the most beautiful and glamorous women Cass knew and unfortunately, she had a tendency to run late. Cass was a wreck. Surely today, of all days, Tracey could be on time. Just this once.
In another two hours the house would be filled with Tracey's guests. With Forbes 400 types, their fashion-plate wives, the odd Silicon Valley millionaire, celebrities, dignitaries, the press, two Japanese bankers, a couple of rock stars, an Israeli shipping tycoon, an ambassador, and a sprinkling of dukes, duchesses, and earls. The very thought caused Cass's heart to lurch unpleasantly.
But mostly, Tracey should be on time because she hadn't seen her own daughter in three months even if they did speak on the phone.
Cass stood nervously by the window, staring past the crisply white shell drive and across the green rolling hills of the East Sussex countryside. She was perspiring. Dairy cows dotted the fields spanning the distance between the house and the small village of Belford, which she could just make out as a jumble of pale stone rooftops. The day was gray, the threat of rain imminent, reducing visibility. Even so, she could see the nearest town Romney, famous for its tourist attraction, an intact castle dating back five full centuries as it sat on one of the surrounding hills. Cass could also see a thin strip of highway meandering through the countryside. No car was in sight.
Where's Mother? Why isn't she here yet? A small voiceasked.
Cass's stomach was in knots as she turned to face her seven-year-old niece. Your mom will be here at any moment, I'm sure of it, she lied. And she thought, Please, Trace.
Alyssa sat on her pristine pink and white bed, against numerous fluffy pillows, all beautifully embroidered and mostly pink, white, and red like the bedroom, wearing her newest clothesa short, pale blue dress from Harrods, navy blue stockings, and chunky black suede shoes. Her raven black hair was pulled back with a tortoiseshell barrette, and her face was scrubbed and glowing. She was so pretty, but nothing like her mothernot in anyway.
She was supposed to arrive an hour ago, Alyssa said glumly. What if she doesn't come?
Cass started and rushed to her niece, who had just verbalized Cass's own worst fears. She is coming, sweetie. You can bet on that. This is Tracey's black-tie supper, even if Aunt Catherine is hosting the event. You know that. She has to show up.
Alyssa nodded, but did not seem convinced. Cass knew that her younger sister was wild and irresponsible, but she wasn't that wild, or that irresponsible. The evening affair was on account of Tracey's new job with Sotheby's in London. The moment Tracey had asked Catherine if she could hold an event in order to display a very rare necklace to three dozen potential buyers the creme de la creme of international society Catherine had agreed. Their aunt rarely refused either one of her nieces. Cass's temples began to throb dully. Tracey would show up wouldn't she?
Cass could not imagine helping Aunt Catherine to host this event. She was not a jet-setter like her sister. She did not frequent five-star hotels, fly first class, juggle playboys and polo players, or even own more than a single evening gown. She did not go to the weddings of supermodels. Cass's last boyfriend had been a journalist, not a rock star.
''Some people just can't help being late,'' Cass finally said, forcing a lightness into her tone that she did not feel. ''It's a terrible habit,'' she added. And that much was true. Cass knew that Tracey did not mean to keep people waiting. It just happened. It was less about self-absorption than it was about disorganization and time management. No one lived life the way her sister did.
Still, Cass had been filled with a growing sense of dread all that day. The evening or her sister's visit was going to be a disaster. Cass had never felt more certain of anything, even if she could not pinpoint why.
Cass just hoped the premonition of disaster didn't have to do with her filling in for Tracey.
"She's so busy now with her new job," Alyssa said, her dark eyes lowered, her thick black lashes fanning out on her alabaster cheeks. She was the spitting image of her rock-star father, Rick Tennant, who was currently on a world tour and somewhere in the Far East.
Cass hoped that was so. Sotheby's seemed like the perfect job for her sister she could mingle with the rich and famous, while her employers benefited from her celebrity status and her celebrity associations. Since her marriage, and even more so since her divorce, Tracey had been a fixture on the society pages of most major magazines.
Tracey's marriage to Rick had been over in less than three years. Cass regretted, for Alyssa's sake, that it hadn't lasted. But Alyssa was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and she loved her as if she were her own daughter. In fact, sometimes she forgot that if Tracey wanted to, she could saunter into their lives and whisk Alyssa away without even an explanation. Which, of course, Cass prayed she would never do.
"I hear a car," Alyssa cried, leaping up, her entire face brightening.
Cass was flooded with relief. Alyssa ran to the window, her black hair swinging like a cape behind her, while Cass hugged herself, sighing, because she would not have to play hostess and Alyssa would see her mother after what had become an interminable separation from a little girl's point of view.
"It's not her," Alyssa said, her tone flat.
Cass stood, her heart sinking, eyes wide. "What? "Where was Tracey!
Alyssa seemed on the verge of tears. Cass took one look at her pinched white face and she reached for her hand. "She's running late. Should we take a walk? It might help pass the time," Cass said.
"I'd rather wait here. I don't want to miss her," Allysa said with a stubborn tilt to her chin.
Before Cass could suggest another diversion,there was a soft knock on the door and Aunt Catherine appeared, holding a silver tray in her hands. Her gaze instantly connected with Cass's, before she entered the room and smiled at Alyssa. "Scones and tea, my dear. You must be famished, Alyssa. You haven't had a bite to eat all day."
Alyssa folded her arms tightly across her chest. "Why does she have to be so late? Doesn't she miss me, too?"
Catherine slowly set the tray down on the Chippendale table in front of another set of windows, one graced by two pink velvet chairs. Although seventy, Cass's aunt was a tall, statuesque woman who looked no older than fifty. Her reddish hair was shoulder length and worn in a chignon, and she remained extremely handsome, a perpetual light in her blue eyes. Even clad simply in gray trousers, a white blouse, and a darker cardigan, she had the carriage of a very noble, self-assured, and self-sufficient woman. Cass admired her greatly, for her character, her generosity, and the many good deeds she had dedicated her life to. "Of course she does. Our guests will be arriving at seven, and knowing your mother, who needs a good hour or two to dress for this kind of event, she will have to arrive at any moment," Catherine said, smiling.
Alyssa wandered overto the table and stared at the scones. She had been so excited that morning she had gotten sick after breakfast, and Cass had let her stay home from the exclusive all-girls school she attended.
Cass went to her. "Of course she misses you, sweetie. She's your mother. No one is more special to her, believe me. But working for Sotheby's can't be easy; they send her all over the world. I think she was in Madrid just a few days ago. Your mom is probably very tired, sweetieand really nervous about tonight."
Alyssa looked her right in the eye. "She was in Vogue again. With a new man. Does she have another boyfriend?"
Cass blinked. She'd obviously missed that last issue. Actually, she avoided the kinds of magazines and rags her sister usually appeared in. Cass wasn't jealous. It was just oddly hurtful to see her sister on those pages so often, surrounded by household names, looking so perfect. "I don't know," Cass said after a pause, truthfully. Tracey hadn't mentioned a new lover to Cass.
Catherine rubbed her thin back. "Do not fret, dear. Your mother will be here at any moment, and then you can ask her yourself about any new man that might be in her life."
Alyssa bit her lip, looking perilously close to tears.
Catherine said, brightly, "I think everyone in this room is exhausted. I do mean, we have had staff preparing for this evening for two days, not to mention the security from Sotheby's to make sure that ruby necklace is not stolen by some cat thief those men swarming all over the grounds! Let's take some tea. We'll all feel better, and by the time we're done, I have not a doubt Tracey will be sailing through that doorway."
Alyssa nodded, lips pursed, sitting down in one of the pink velvet chairs, swinging her chunky platform shoes back and forth. As she reached for a scone, Catherine pouring the tea, Cass said, "I'm going to go downstairs and take a breath of air, if you two don't mind."
"I think you should take a long hot soak, Cassandra, and spend some time primping before the mirror for this evening's affair," Catherine said gently.
Cass caught the briefest glimpse of her own reflection in the mirror as she started and turned back to face her aunt. She was wearing not one stitch of makeup, and the Barnard sweatshirt she'd thrown on that morning was as old and faded as her jeans. Her honey blond hair was shoulder length and pulled into a ponytail. Like her aunt, she had strong, even features and good skin. Unlike her aunt, she did not turn heads.
And she knew exactly what her aunt meant she should take extra care to dress up because one never knew whom one might meet. "Moi? Primp? Would you care to define that for me?" Cass had to smile.
Alyssa even giggled. "I'll help Aunt Cass get dressed," she said. "She can use my lipstick. It would look great on you, Aunt Cass."
Before Cass could accept or decline, Catherine said, "You are far too young to own, much less wear, lipstick, Alyssa." Her tone was stern.
"Actually," Cass cut in, "I thought I'd go over the notes I made last night. I was so tired I feel asleep at my desk, and I want to make sure I can decipher my scrawl."
Catherine just looked at her, her expression a mixture of resignation, reproval, and respect.
Cass fled the room before they could get into an argument about Cass's single-minded focus on her career as the author of historical novelsshe'd had four works published in the past six years and her consequent, serious lack of a personal life or even the mere pursuit of one.
Cass hurried downstairs in her rubber-soled loafers. They had been over the old tired argument a dozen timesshe should get out more, date more, she should be married, she should have her own kids. Catherine just didn't understand. Taking care of Alyssa and her work was just about all she could handle.There was only so much time in every day.
A housemaid smiled at her as she hurried past, down a dim hall with stone floors, her mind torn between thoughts of Tracey's arrival and her departure, the desire to protect Alyssa from all of life's disappointments, both large and small, and her own inner voice, which agreed with her aunt entirely. Five years ago, when she had packed up her life and moved with Alyssa from her small apartment in New York City to Belford House, she'd given up her pursuit of a personal life and hadn't dwelled much on it since.There had been no choice to make. Alyssa had needed her from the day she was born, and the moment Tracey and Rick had decided to divorce, it had been clear to Cass that if she didn't raise the small child, no one else would. She hadn't had the means to be a single mother, and moving in with her aunt had been the perfect solution.There were no regrets.
Cass stepped through a pair of doors that opened on one side of her aunt's flower gardens, the driveway to her left and just within the range of her peripheral vision. She swung her head around and hesitated, noticing a black Citroen in the driveway. Her sister drove an Aston Martin. Or rather, her driver did. Tracey had made out very handsomely in her divorce settlement.
It was too early for anyguests to have arrived, and just as Cass was pondering that notion, she realized that someone was standing in the gardens on her right, his back to her. For one moment she wondered if he was one of the security men from Sotheby's. He was tall, dark haired, and well dressed in tan trousers and a black sport jacket. The tan trousers gave himaway as something other than security, because the security men wore all black. Cass approached, clearing her throat, about to ask him if he needed helpor was even in the right place.
Cass felt a flash of recognition even before his eyes met hers. She stumbled, for one instant lost in confusion.
Just what in God's name was Antonio de la Barca doing in her aunt's flower gardens? She did not know him personally, but he was the kind of man a woman would never forget, nothaving met him even once. Not that they had actually, really met. He was a professor of medieval studies, of international renown, tenured in Madrid, and Cass had attended a lecture series that he had given at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City seven years ago. She recalled the series so well: Medieval Myth, Fact or Fantasy, a Mirror to Our World. She had been researching her third novel at the time, and his course had been just after Alyssa's birth but before her sister's quickie divorce.
"Senora, I see I have startled you. Please, forgive me," he said, his smile slight. He had an intriguing Latin accent.
Cass tried to recover her composure. "I wasn't expecting anyone to be out here," she managed, her heart racing madly. This was absurd. Why was she so surprised to see him? Obviously he must be there to attend the dinner party. It was now clicking in her brain that the necklace that was the highlight of Sotheby's next auction was a period piece, dating back to the sixteenth century. Article after article had been written about the stunning find. Perhaps he had even appraised its historical value.
"A servant assured me that I could take a walk in the gardens without disturbing anyone, but I see I have disturbed you. Again, my sincerest apologies." He was wearing tortoiseshell eyeglasses, which hardly detracted from his strong, attractive Spanish features. His gaze was at once assured and questioning.
Cass knew she was blushing. He did not seem to remember her, but of course, he would not. Even if she had asked dozens of questions after each and every lecture. Her gaze slid to his hands, but they were tucked in the pockets of his trousers. He'd worn a wedding ring seven years ago, and the gossip among all of the women attending the lectures had run rampant, because supposedly his wife had simply disappeared without a trace the year before. Cass recalled the ceaseless speculation was it even true? Had she runaway? Or had someunspeakable horror befallen her? Of course, no one had had anyanswers. But it had certainly made him even more of a romantic figure in the eyes of the women attending the lecture series. Just about every womanthere had been madly in love with him.
"I'm being a terrible hostess," Cass finally said, finding her tongue. "You must be here for the evening's dinner party. My aunt is Catherine Belford. I'm Cassandra de Warenne."
For one moment he studied her, not accepting her hand. Cass wondered if she had said something wrong, and then the moment passed her hand was in his grip, which was firm and cool, and he bowed ever so slightly. "You're American?" he asked with somesurprise.
Her accent was a giveaway. "My mother was American, and actually I was born in the States, but when she died, my aunt took us in. I was eleven at the time. I've spent so much time here, I consider myself at least half British." Cass knew she was speaking in a nervous rush.
He removed his eyeglasses, tucking them into the interior breast pocket of his impeccably tailored navy blue sport jacket. "You went to Barnard?"
Cass suddenly realized, with no small amount of horror, how she was dressed. Unfortunately, she could feel her color increase. "Yes. I graduated ten years ago," she said. "I took a year off, then went back for my master's."
"I've lectured several times at Columbia," he said with a smile. "I know both colleges well. They are fine schools."
Cass shoved her hands, which were damp, into the pockets of her jeans. Did she sound like an idiot? Or a blushing schoolgirl? "Actually, I attended your lecture series at the Met a few years ago."
He just looked at her, his expression difficult to read.
Cass felt like taking back her words. Should she have admitted that she remembered him? "You are Antonio de la Barca?"
"Forgive me again." He raked a hand through his jet black hair, hair that was even darker than Alyssa's. "I do not know what is wrong with me today." He shook his head, as if to clear it. Then he stared. "Yes, I did give that lecture, seven years ago." Something crossed his face, an expression Cass found difficult to read. "A great institution," he murmured, and he turned slightly, staring toward the rolling hills and Romney Castle. Cass realized it was drizzling.
She ignored it. She also ignored the slight twinge she felt because he didn't remember her at all. "It was a wonderful lecture, Senor de la Barca. I enjoyed it immensely."
He faced her, their eyes meeting. "Are you a historian?"
She hesitated, debating telling him the truth. "I majored in European history at college," she said. "My master's is in British history. And now I write historical novels." She kept her hand in her pockets.
His eyes flickered. "How interesting," he said, and there was nothing patronizing in his tone. "I would love a list of the titles you have published."
"I'd be happy to give one to you before you leave," Cass said, wondering if he would really read one of her books, then worrying about anyinaccuracies he might find. "Are you here to see the necklace?"
He nodded, eyes brightening. "A sixteenth-century piece? The way it has been described, it would be worth a king's ransomand would have belonged to someone exemplary. If the piece is authentic, which clearly it must be, as Sotheby's does not make such grievous errors, then I am more interested in discovering who might have originally owned it than anything else." He smiled at her.
"It's stunning," Cass said eagerly. "Of course, I've only seen the photos. Those rubies are cut so slightly and so primitively that the average person would assume them to be glass. I can't wait to actually see the piece tonight."
He was nodding. "Rubies were very rare in the sixteenth century," he said, his gaze directly on her again. "Only the most wealthy and powerful possessed rubies. This necklace might have belonged to a queen or a princess. That the Hepplewhites discovered it in their possession is rather amazing."
"Can you imagine if Lady Hepplewhite had thrown it out as she first thought of doing, assuming it to be a costume piece?"
He was smiling, shaking his head. Cass was smiling, too.
"I'm writing a novel set during Bloody Mary's reign," she said impulsively. "It was a fascinating period in time, and Mary has been so stereotyped and so gravely misunderstood."
Both of his dark brows lifted. He stared. "Really."
Cass bit her lip. "I can't help it. My imagination runs away with me. That necklace could have been a careless gift handed down by Mary to one of her favorites. She was very loyal and generous to those in her household."
"Yes, it could have been." Their gazes locked. "Or it could have been a gift from her father to just about anyoneone of his wives, one of his daughtersor perhaps his son Edward passed it along in a similar manner."
"It would be very interesting to trace the lineage of the necklace," Cass mused.
"Very interesting," Antonio de la Barca agreed, his gaze still focused entirely on her.
There was something in his tone that made Cass tense. She could not lookaway, and now she remembered talking to him after a lecture and being as mesmerized by the brilliance in his hazel eyes. The brilliance and the intensity.
She had to take a step backward,away from him. Even if he was a widower, he was way out of her league. Besides, she had learned her lesson years ago. Eight years ago, to be exact just before Alyssa was born. When you fell in love, all good judgment flew out the window, and the result was tragic. Having had her heart broken once and forever was enough. The man who broke it was a college love affairbut it had apparently been more important to her than it had to him. She knew she had moved past the heartbreak. She just never wanted to go there again. "It's raining," she said, to break the moment, which had somehow seemed far too intimate and even awkward.
He glanced up at the sky, smiled slightly, as the skies opened up and it began to pour. "Indeed it is," he said.
"C'mon," Cass said, turning to lead him inside.
But he was shrugging off his designer sport jacket and draping it overher sweatshirt-clad shoulders. Cass did not have time to gape. Talking her elbow very firmly, he hurried her back inside.
Once out of the rain, Cass handed him his nearly soaking jacket. "I hope you haven't ruined that."
"It hardly matters," he replied.
Cass hesitated, aware of the darkening shadows of the late afternoon, and as suddenly aware of the fact that this particular guest was several hours early. What was she to do with him?
Clearly her thoughts were written all overher face, because he said, "I am meeting Senora Tennan there, but apparently she is somewhat late."
Cass stiffened. He's meeting Tracey "Tracey is my sister."
He started. "She never mentioned that she had a sister. I was assuming you to be her cousin."
How did de la Barca know her sister? "No,we're sisters, even if we look nothing alike," she said slowly. A new sense of dread, very different from the one that had been haunting her all day, was filling her.
Why was he meeting Tracey? Before Cass could even begin to sort out what was happening, Alyssa came pounding down the stairs, crying out in excitement that her mother had finally arrived.
And the front door swung open behind them. Cass heard it just as she felt a gust of cold, wet air, but she was looking at his hands now, which were hanging by his sides. He was wearing a very bold ring with a bloodred stone on his right hand, but the slender wedding band she had seen seven years ago was gone. Well. He had not remarried. And that explained everything, she thought grimly. His involvement with Tracey had nothing to do with the sixteenth-century necklace. Cass knew it the way she knew she would have an awful time that evening.
"Hello, everyone!" Tracey cried from behind Cass.
A huge weight settled on Cass's shoulders, and she turned.
Tracey stood in the doorway in a pair of beautifully tailored white pants, an exquisitely cut short grayish white jacket with Chanel buttons, and a pair of high-heeled white boots. Her long, pale blond hair was loose, the dampness causing it to curl about her face and shoulders. She looked as if she had just stepped off a catwalk, or out of the pages of Vogue. Which, considering Alyssa's earlier comments, apparently she had.
Tracey was classically attractive. Her features were perfectly even, her eyes blue, her skin unblemished. She was one of those women who looked as good without makeup as they did with it. And while there might be more beautiful women in the same room with her, Tracey was always the most striking. She was the one who turned heads. Because she was model-thin and close to six feet tall. She also lived in drop-dead designer clothes. No one made an entrance like her sister did, Cass thought sourly. She realized she was hugging herself.
"Cass, how are you?" Tracey smiled, apparently nothaving noticed Alyssa, who stood on the lowest level of the stairs, clinging to the banister. She hugged Cass hard, but Cass hardly noticed. How the hell had her sister and de la Barca met? How?
Tracey's gaze became questioning. "Cass?"
"Hiya, sis." Cass managed a smile.
Tracey beamed at her, then turned to face Antonio de la Barca. The smile she sent him told Cass all she needed to know. They were lovers. This was nothing newso why was she surprised? Dismayed?
"I see that the two of you have met," she said happily. "Don't tell me you're already dressed for supper?" she teased.
"Ha ha," Cass said, watching Tracey kiss Antonio on the cheek. At least she was spared the real thing. How had they met? When had they become lovers? And why, Goddamn it, did she care? Tracey changed men the way she changed her wardrobewhich was seasonally, at least. Cass was used to itshe expected no less.
Although if she were brutally honest with herself, she could admit how nice it would be to have an endless stream of boyfriends.
But she wasn't Tracey. She just couldn't settle for good looks and good times.
Tracey pulled on her ponytail. "Why are you so grumpy? I was only kidding, sis. In fact "her smile widened" I brought everyone presents!"
Cass stepped back a bit. "How have you been? You look great, Trace. I guess Sotheby's agrees with you."
Tracey beamed, which only made her lovelier. "A lot of things are agreeing with me lately," she said, her gaze locking on de la Barca. She stopped, spotting Alyssa with her nose between the bars of the iron banister. "Darling, comehere!" Tracey cried.
Alyssa slowly stood, her face as red as a beet. "Hello, Mother," she said, her brown eyes wide and riveted upon Tracey's snow white figure.
Tracey pounced on her, embracing her once, hard. Cass watched. She watched Alyssa's body remain straight and hardand tight, and she watched Tracey's smile fade and finally vanish as she straightened, a look of hurt in her blue eyes. Alyssa climbed up the stairs a step, a similar look of hurt in her near-black gaze. In the next instant Tracey recovered, the cover-girl smile firmly in place as she turned and rushed to Antonio, looping her arms in his. "I see you've met everyone," she said too brightly.
It was hardly noticeable, but he disengaged their arms. "I have met your sister, but I have not met your daughter," he said somewhat quietly. His smile was brief.
Cass's antenna went up. Trouble in paradise? Something was up, and she had to know what.
"Alyssa, come meet my boyfriend, Antonio de la Barca. Tonio, this is my beautiful daughter, who is seven, I might add."
Alyssa finally came down the stairs. "I saw your picture in Vogue. With my mother."
Antonio stooped so that he was not towering overher. And he smiled and it was wide and genuine, marking him as a man who liked children. "Your mother is the kind of woman that photographers wish to photograph. I have no doubt that one day you will be the very same kind of woman."
Cass fell in love with him in that moment. The sudden, shocking depth and intensity of feeling immobilized her. It was the kind of feeling she'd had once beforea sensation of absolute free-falling, a headlong plunge, into the abyss of emotional space.
Cass had gone there once before and barely survived. She stared at her sister, her niece, and the stranger in their midst, paralyzed.
Antonio continued to smile at Alyssa. Very slowly, very slightly, Alyssa smiled back.
And Cass could not move. She could not even think, she could only feel. She was stunned. Terrified.
He was so gorgeous and so Old World, so masculine, so intelligent... Jesus.
And he was her sister's.
Which was just fine.
This could not be happening, she thought.
"I have a son," Antonio continued, "only three years older than you. Maybe one day you will meet him."
Alyssa's eyes brightened. And when she spoke, it was clear to Cass that she was doing all that she could to sound detached but her tone was breathless. "What is his name?"
"His name is Eduardo, and he lives with me in Madrid, just a few blocks from the Plaza de la Lealtad. We live near a beautiful park, El Retiro,where many children play soccer and Rollerblade in the afternoons." Antonio straightened. Tracey was wearing four-inch heels. At that moment they were the exact same height.
"I would love to go to Madrid," Alyssa breathed.
It suddenly clicked in Cass's very befuddled and stunned mind why Tracey had sent Alyssa several postcards from Madrid. Now she knew why Tracey had been channel-hopping. And she had a very unladylike but very New York City thought. Shit.
Cass tried to get a grip. She tried to recover her composure. She did not know de la Barca, not at all, and it was insanity to think that she had just discovered somekind of profound feeling for him.
She was not falling in love.
No way. Not now, not ever, not today.
"Well, one day I am sure you will," Tracey said, moving into the center of the tableau. "Look at what I have brought you, darling," she said, digging four packages out of her Vuitton duffel bag and handing them all at once to Alyssa.
Alyssa clasped her hands in front of her, staring down at the gift-wrapped boxes. "Thank you, Mother."
"You have to open them!" Tracey cried. Then, "Aunt Catherine! There you are, and just in time. I have something for you, too!" Catherine was coming down the stairs. She was smiling, and Tracey flew into her arms. They embraced warmly, and then Tracey handed her a small box that could only be from a jeweler.
Cass went to Alyssa, trying to avoid looking at de la Barca. "Do you want to take the gifts upstairs to your room and open them privately?" she asked softly, for Alyssa's ears only.
Alyssa nodded. Tears had formed on the tips of her lashes.
Cass wanted to hug her, hard. Suddenly she wanted to turn and shout at Tracey that all the gifts in the world could not make up for her absentee style of motherhood, that gifts could not buy love. She wanted to shout, Wake up! I know you love her, but show it, Goddamn it! Spend sometimehere, with your family! But she said none of those things. Alyssa's control was fragile, at best. And now, so was her own.
Wouldn't de la Barca want an intellectual woman?
"Oh, you have to open the pink package, you'll just love it!" Tracey cried, rushing forward and handing it to her daughter. It was one of the smallest packages present. In the same breath Tracey delved into her duffel and produced a long flat box for Cass. She smiled. "And don't you dare say no."
Cass knew it was clothing. Her sister had incredible taste in clothes, was the chicest person Cass knew, but Cass wasn't Tracey. She didn't wear miniskirts and she didn't wear stiletto heels. Of course, she was only five foot three. She wouldn't even be able to walk in the kind of shoes Tracey wore. "Thanks," she said.
"Are you all right?" Tracey asked with concern.
"Absolutely," Cass said, imagining that her smile was stretched wide and thin.
Catherine suddenly said, "Oh, Tracey, dear, how lovely."
Her tone was odd. Cass looked up to find Catherine holding a stunning Elizabeth Locke pin, a large peridot stone engraved with the figure of a woman, set in a matte gold bar with a diamond chain. But she wasn't admiring the pin. Her brow was furrowed, and she was staring at their visitor. Cass realized she had forgotten to introduce him to her aunt.
But before she could do so, Tracey was speaking in a gay rush. "I was walking down the street when I saw it in the window and I just knew it was perfect for you," she said, smiling happily at her aunt.
"I wish you hadn't," Catherine said very softly, for the hundredth time, her gaze now on her niece. But then it veered back to de la Barca, and her aunt's expression made Cass concerned.
Alyssa had opened her pink parcel, and now she sat down on the second step of the stairs, clutching something to her chest.
Tracey turned eagerly. "It's a collector's item, darling. Her name is Sparkee. Isn't she just the cutest?"
Alyssa bit her lip, nodding. "Thank you, Mother."
Cass realized she was holding a Beanie Baby. Alyssa adored the small stuffed animals and had been brokenhearted when they had all been retired last year. Tracey had probably found the little toy in an auction, or even on the Net. She had gone to great lengths, clearly. But Cass could not focus on mother and daughter now. "Aunt Catherine? Are you all right?" Her aunt seemed oddly stiff with tension.
"We haven't met," Aunt Catherine said quietly.
"Forgive me, but I am intrudingand that is the last thing I wish to do," Antonio de la Barca said as quietly.
But Tracey was swooping down on her aunt,having looped her arm in Antonio's again. "How could you intrude, darling? Aunt Catherine, this is Antonio de la Barca, from Madrid. Tonio, my aunt, Lady Catherine Belford.' '
Cass started forward. Her aunt was immobile, as if afraid to move, the colorhaving drained from her face. "Aunt Catherine? Are you ill?" she asked with alarm.
If Catherine heard her, she gave no sign. She stared at de la Barca, her expression strained. She could not seem to take her eyes off him. "You resemble your father," she said thickly.
He had been reaching for her hand, and now he froze. "You knew my father, Lady Belford?' '
Slowly Catherine nodded, and something terribly sad flitted through her eyes.
"Many years ago," Catherine said. And suddenly her face crumpled with the onset of tears.
"Senora?" Antonio asked, alarmed.
"Oh! I just remembered I need to ask the caterer something." Catherine turned, almost running, and quite shoving past Tracey.
"Aunt Catherine!" Cass had never seen her aunt act in such a manner before.
Tracey was also wide-eyed.
"Why don't you show our guest to his room," Cass said. She didn't wait for a reply. She hurried down the hall after Catherine, pushing open the door to the kitchen.
Inside it was a flurry of activity, as the caterer and her staff were busy making the last-minute preparations for a cocktail hour and a supper that would serve forty. Catherine stood by the end of the center aisle, hunched overit, leaning upon it, her back to Cass. She was shaking.
Cass did not understand. She rushed to her aunt, slipping her arm around her. "What's wrong? What has happened?" Cass cried.
At first Catherine couldn't speak. She could only shake her head wordlessly, continuing to tremble.
"Aunt Catherine, talk to me, please," Cass begged. One of the staff handed her a tissue and her aunt accepted it, dabbing at her eyes.
"I never expected this," she whispered. "After all these years. Cassandra, we must get that man out of this houseand out of Tracey's life."
Cass was incredulous. "Why?"
"Why?" Catherine turned on her, and Cass was shocked to see both pain and fear in her aunt's wide eyes. Catherine was shaking. "I will tell you why, Cassandra. I killed his father."
Meet the Author
Brenda Joyce has 3 million copies of her books in print, including her hardcover debut, The Third Heiress.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This was my fist book written by Brenda Joyce. It was a chance pick up in the bargain section of the bookstore. Lunch break and nothing to do but as soon as I started reading-merely a few pages into the book I knew this book was going to be wonderful! And indeed it was. I will make sure to get the rest of her books. Definitely a book that must be read!!
Cassandra de Warrenne, a woman whose passion is found in the pages of history books, is about to live the nightmare of her life. When her sister, Tracey, brings home her new boyfriend, Antonio de la Barca, Cass never expected the immediate attraction she experiences. Catherine de Warrenne, aunt to Cass and Tracey, never thought she would see another de la Barca in her lifetime, but when she meets Antonio, the horror and memories flood back to her.
Isabel de Warrenne, a woman who died 445 years before, is about reek havoc on these two families. But what no one knows is who she is and why she is here¿
***** Never in my life did I think I would read a scary book, but this one I could not put down. The character¿s and the story flowed together so well, I forgot I was reading a book. I kept on looking over my shoulder making sure Isabel wasn¿t there watching me. I don't care what others think, this one sent chills down my spine! Recommended reading! *****
Reviewed by Kim Blair
I love Brenda Joyce, But if this was the first book I had every read of hers, I would have never purchased another.
Just about every page someone cried out... he cried out, she cried out, they cried out... I wanted to cry out... STOP!!!! Put me way off the book. The present scenes were barely tolerable, the 1500 scenes were way better written and not nearly as many people crying out... although there were a few. I liked the rest of the series and it was the only reason why I stuck with it... Although had to skim last third of book because I just couldn't take it any more.
I have enjoyed every book of Brenda Joyce's that I have purchased. The DeWarennne series is fantastic. This book is no exception!
I absolutley loved this book it kept me on my toes ...Romance ans suspence always make a great reading .Thank you
I am a long time historical romance reader and fan of Brenda Joyce. I have been reading her for close to 20 years now. I discovered her in my late teens and have read ever since. My favorite old books of hers are ¿After Innocence¿, ¿Secrets¿, ¿The Rival¿, ¿Beyond Scandal¿, ¿Splendor¿ and ¿Finer Things¿ (all historical romances). ¿House of Dreams¿ had a similar feel to me as ¿The Third Heiress¿ did (both contemporary mystery/love stories). Both HofD and TTH revolved around family members from generations past and their love stories and tales of life and death. The generations past then influenced the current generation¿s ability to live and love and each had over-tones of the supernatural and great mystery and intrigue. The actual ¿love¿ and ¿love scenes¿ in both left a lot to be desired to me as they were harsh, rough and a bit callous. In this book, I thought the intrigue of Isabel de la Barca and what happened to her in the 1500¿s was the best part of the book. How she fell in love, got married, had a child with her lover versus her husband, how her husband and the royal court treated her and her final fate. How her youth and poor decisions influenced her life and how she didn¿t understand the repercussions of those bad choices until too late. Then¿from her terrible end¿how her hatred and need to get back at those who mis-treated her continued through the centuries. Was she a ghost? Was she real? Did she have the ability to over-take modern minds and bodies to do unthinkable things? Did she really cause many men in the de la Barca family and the de Warenne families to die early and tragically because of what they had done to her in generations past? The ending should have had a more powerful punch ¿ a wrong righted and the truth set to rest. It was a little off. I didn¿t connect well with the modern characters of Antonio, Gregory, Tracey, and Cass. They were interesting in their research of the past and their ancestors but, their modern relationships were messy and without respectful boundaries of one another. There is no question there were many grammatical errors in the book, lack of continuity in places and descriptions that simply didn¿t make sense. Proof reading could not have been done or these things would have been found. On the whole, I would recommend you read this author if you have not yet. Reading this author is a must¿reading this book is up to you. Try some of the books I have mentioned above if you are into historical romances. I have heard her ¿Deadly¿ series is better for modern readers. Either way, enjoy!
There was a good premise to start off with, and the plot was decent, but the characters were never very developed. All they ever did was lock eyes, "their gazes met" and talk about the situations that they were in. There was very little romance to the novel, but if you like ghost stories, this wasn't too bad...i would advice you don't spend the money buying it but get it from the library instead.
When Cass de Warenne (the historian) and her sister Trace (the jetsetter) go to Spain as the uninvted guests of the (noted historian) Antonio de le Barca, everything starts to tumble out of the closets. Trace is there for one reason: to lure Antonio back into her net; this is the man for her. There's only one rather scary problem: Isabel. There has been a long standing feud (only 445 years)between Isabel and both familes. Once Isabel made her debut I couldn't put this book down. You never knew what terrifying deed would happen next. This book is definitely worth taking the time to read.
The premise of Ms. Joyce's 'House of Dreams' is very intriguing: a malevolent ghost bent on vengeance brings together several descendants of people who did her wrong centuries before. Add to that a reluctant romantic triangle and you have the makings of a very suspenseful and tension-filled story which I enjoyed. However, I found the dialog didn't match the characters. For example, would a Spaniard speaking English as a second language really use the word 'bash'? Various incongruities like that jarred me throughout 'House of Dreams', as though the author kept forgetting some of her characters were Spanish instead of American. The characters also seemed a bit more dense than you'd expect from their backgrounds, discounting repeated incidents as mere bad luck and sticking around instead of prudently skedaddling when things start going badly wrong. Overall, it was an entertaining story. I'd just like to see Ms. Joyce smooth out the rough edges a bit.
Ms. Joyce found her way back to my bookselve with this novel. All the novels characters with given depth and a strong personality. I truely enjoyed Cassandra de Warenne intelligence.
When Tracey de Warenne announced to her sister Cassandra and her Aunt Catherine that she wants Antonio de la Barca, the older relative nearly has cardiac arrest. Catherine warns Tracey to stay away from the de la Barca family because they are cursed for what happened to an ancestor Isabel in the sixteenth century. The betrayal of Isabel by her loved ones, which include her own family the de Warennes and her spouse's kin the de la Barcas, link the two families forever. Headstrong Tracey ignores the warning of her Aunt, writing it off as lunatic ravings. Accompanied by Cass, who loves history, she travels to Spain to claim Antonio. However, instead of Tracey, Antonio is attracted to Cass. Soon, they realize that Aunt Catherine is right about the de la Barca home as the malevolent spirit of Isabel sees the love between Cass and Antonio as an opportunity to avenge what the two families did to her over four centuries ago. HOUSE OF DREAMS contains all the elements expected of an exciting modern day gothic romance, which in turn will provide much pleasure to sub-genre readers. The story line is crisp due to the atmosphere of foreboding that permeates each page. Although the support characters including Isabel seem lacking and at times slow down the plot, the lead protagonists make a wonderful duo struggling with family loyalty, a growing love for one another, and the angry thirst for revenge by Isabel. Best-selling author Brenda Joyce writes an entertaining tale that readers will enjoy. Harriet Klausner
ONCE AGAIN MS. JOYCE FALLS SHORT IN DEVELOPING HER CHARACTERS.ON SENSUALITY SCALE OF 1-10 IT FALLS SHORT ON A WEAK 2. IF YOU ARE JUST CUTTING YOUR BABY TEETH ON ROMANCE NOVELS BUY THIS BOOK AS A PLACE TO START.IF YOU ARE A SEASONED ROMANCE READER DO NOT.