When she was eighteen, Margo knew exactly what she wanted. She had wanted the same at twelve. Everything. But now she had made up her mind how to go about attaining it. She was going to trade on her looks, her best and perhaps only talent as far as she was concerned. She thought she could act, or at least learn how. It had to be easier than algebra, or English lit, or any of those other stuffy classes in school. But one way or another, she was going to be a star. And she was going to make it on her own.
She'd made the decision the night before. The night before Laura's wedding. Was it selfish of her to be so miserable that Laura was about to be married?
She'd been nearly this miserable when Mr. and Mrs. T. had taken Laura and Josh and Kate to Europe the summer before for an entire month. And she had stayed home because her mother had refused the Templetons' offer to take her along. She'd been desperate to go, she remembered, but none of her pleas, nor any of Laura's and Kate's, had budged Ann Sullivan an inch.
"Not your place to traipse off to Europe and stay in fancy hotels," Mum had said. "The Templetons have been generous enough with you without you expecting more."
So she'd stayed home, earning her keep, as her mother called it, by dusting and polishing and learning to keep a proper house. And she'd been miserable. But that didn't make her selfish, she told herself. It hadn't been as if she hadn't wanted Kate and Laura to have a wonderful time. She'd just ached to be with them.
And it wasn't as if she didn't hope that Laura's marriage would be perfectly wonderful. She just couldn't stand to lose her. Did that make her selfish? She hoped it didn't, because it wasn't just for herself that she was unhappy. It was for Laura too. It was the thought of Laura's trying herself to a man and marriage before she had given herself a chance to live.
Oh, God, Margo wanted to live.
So her bags were already packed. Once Laura flew off on her honeymoon, Margo intended to be on her way to Hollywood.
She would miss Templeton House, and Mr. and Mrs. T., and, oh, she would miss Kate and Laura, even Josh. She would miss her mother, though she knew there would be ugliness between them before the door closed. There had already been so many arguments.
College was the bone of contention between them now. College and Margo's unbending refusal to continue her education. She knew she would die if she had to spend another four years with books and classrooms. And what did she need with college when she'd already decided how she wanted to live her life and make her fortune?
Her mother was too busy for arguments now. As housekeeper, Ann Sullivan had a wedding reception on her mind. The wedding would be held at church, then all the limousines would stream along Highway 1, like great, glinting white boats, and up the hill to Templeton House.
Already the house was perfect, but she imagined her mother was off somewhere battling with the florist over arrangements. It had to be beyond perfect for Laura's wedding. She knew how much her mother loved Laura, and she didn't resent it. But she did resent that her mother wanted her to be like Laura. And she never could. Didn't want to.
Laura was warm and sweet and perfect. Margo knew she was none of those things. Laura never argued with her mother the way Margo and Ann flew at each other like cats. But then, Laura's life was already so settled and smooth. She never had to worry about her place, or where she would go. She'd already seen Europe, hadn't she? She could live in Templeton House forever if she chose. If she wanted to work, the Templeton hotels were there for her-she could pick her spot.
Margo wasn't like Kate either, so studious and goal-oriented. She wasn't going to dash off to Harvard in a few weeks and work toward a degree so that she could keep books and read tax law. God, how tedious! But that was Kate, who'd rather read the Wall Street Journal than pore over the glamorous pictures in Vogue, who could discuss, happily, interest rates and capital gains with Mr. T. for hours.
No, she didn't want to be Kate or Laura, as much as she loved them. She wanted to be Margo Sullivan. And she intended to revel in being Margo Sullivan. One day she would have a house as fine as this, she told herself as she came slowly down the main stairs, trailing a hand along the glossy mahogany banister.
The stairs curved in a long, graceful sweep, and high above, like a sunburst, hung a sparkling Waterford chandelier. How many times had she seen it shoot glamorous light onto the glossy white and peacock blue marble tiles of the foyer, sparkle elegance onto the already elegant guests who came to the wonderful parties the Templetons were famous for?
The house always rang with laughter and music at Templeton parties, she remembered, whether guests were seated formally at the long, graceful table in the dining room under twin chandeliers or wandered freely through the rooms, chatting as they sipped champagne or cozied up on a love seat.
She would give wonderful parties one day, and she hoped she would be as warm and entertaining a hostess as Mrs. T. Did such things come through the blood, she wondered, or could they be learned? If they could be learned, then she would learn.
Her mother had taught her how to arrange flowers just so-the way those gleaming white roses in a tall crystal vase graced the Pembroke table in the foyer. See the way they reflect in the mirror, she thought. Tall and pure with their fanning greens.
Those were the touches that made home, she reminded herself. Flowers and pretty bowls, candlesticks and lovingly polished wood. The smells, the way the light slanted through the windows, the sounds of grand old clocks ticking. It was all that she would remember when she was far away. Not just the archways that allowed one room to flow into another, or the complex and beautiful patterns of mosaics around the tall, wide front door. She would remember the smell of the library after Mr. T. had lighted one of his cigars and the way the room echoed when he laughed.
She'd remember the winter evenings when she and Laura and Kate would curl up on the rug in front of the parlor fire-the rich gleam of the lapis mantel, the feel of the heat on her cheeks, the way Kate would giggle over a game when she was winning.
She'd imagine the fragrances of Mrs. T.'s sitting room. Powders and perfumes and candlewax. And the way Mrs. T. smiled when Margo came in to talk with her. She could always talk to Mrs. T.
Her own room. How the Templetons had let her pick out the new wallpaper when she turned sixteen. And even her mother had smiled and approved of her choice of pale green background splashed with showy white lilies. The hours she'd spent in that room alone, or with Laura and Kate. Talking, talking, talking. Planning. Dreaming.
Am I doing the right thing? she wondered with a quick jolt of panic. How could she bear to leave everything, everyone she knew and loved?
"Posing again, duchess?" Josh stepped into the foyer. He wasn't dressed for the wedding yet, but wore chinos and a cotton shirt. At twenty-two he'd filled out nicely, and his years at Harvard sat comfortably on him.
Margo thought disgustedly that he would look elegant in cardboard. He was still the golden boy, though his face had lost its innocent boyishness. It was shrewd, with his father's gray eyes and his mother's lovely mouth. His hair had darkened to bronze, and a late growth spurt in his last year of high school had shot him to six two.
She wished he were ugly. She wished looks didn't matter. She wished he would look at her, just once, as if she wasn't simply a nuisance.
"I was thinking," she told him, but stayed where she was, on the stairs, with one hand resting casually on the banister. She knew she'd never looked better. Her bridesmaid's dress was the most glorious creation she'd ever owned. That was why she'd dressed early, to enjoy it as long as she possibly could.
Laura had chosen the summer blue to match Margo's eyes, and the silk was as fragile and fluid as water. The long sweep of it highlighted her frankly lush figure, and the long, sheer sleeves showcased her creamy ivory skin.
"Rushing things, aren't you?" He spoke quickly because whenever he looked at her the punch of lust was like a flaming fist in his gut. It had to be only lust because lust was easy. "The wedding's not for two hours."
"It'll take nearly that long to put Laura together. I left her with Mrs. T. I thought they ... well, they needed a minute or two alone."
"Mothers cry on their daughters' wedding day because they know what they're getting into."
He grinned and held out a hand. "You'd make an interesting bride, duchess."
She took his hand. Their fingers had twined hundreds of times over their years together. This was no different. "Is that a compliment?"
"An observation." He led her into the parlor, where silver candlesticks held slim white tapers and sumptuous arrangements of flowers were decked. Jasmine, roses, gardenias. All white on white and heady with scent in the room where sunlight streamed through high, arched windows.
There were silver-framed photos on the mantel. She was there, Margo thought, accepted as part of the family. On the piano sat the Waterford compote that she had recklessly spent her savings on for the Templetons' twenty-fifth anniversary.
She tried to take it in, every piece of it. The soft colors of the Aubusson carpet, the delicate carving on the legs of the Queen Anne chairs, the intricate marquetry on the music cabinet.
"It's so beautiful," she murmured.
"Hmm?" He was busy tearing the foil off a bottle of champagne he'd snatched from the kitchen.
"The house. It's so beautiful."
"Annie's outdone herself," he said, referring to Margo's mother. "Should be a hell of a wedding."
It was his tone that drew her gaze back to him. She knew him so well, every nuance of expression, every subtle tone of voice. "You don't like Peter."
Josh shrugged, uncorked the bottle with an expert press of thumb. "I'm not marrying Ridgeway, Laura is."
She grinned at him. "I can't stand him. Stuffy, superior snot."
He grinned back at her, at ease again. "We usually agree on people, if little else."
Because he hated it, she patted his cheek. "We'd probably agree on more if you didn't enjoy picking on me so much."
"It's my job to pick on you." He snagged her wrist, annoying her. "You'd feel neglected if I didn't."
"You're even more revolting now that you've got a degree from Harvard." She picked up a glass. "At least pretend you're a gentleman. Pour me some." When he studied her, she rolled her eyes. "For Christ's sake, Josh, I'm eighteen. If Laura's old enough to get married to that jerk, I'm old enough to drink champagne."
"One," he said, the dutiful older brother. "I don't want you weaving down the aisle later." He noted with amused frustration that she looked as though she'd been born with a champagne flute in her hands. And men at her feet.
"I suppose we should drink to the bride and groom." She pursed her lips as she studied the bubbles rising so frothily in her glass. "But I'm afraid I'll choke, and I'd hate to waste this." She winced, lowered the glass. "That's so damn mean. I hate being mean, but I can't seem to help it."
"It's not mean, it's honest." He moved a shoulder. "We might as well be mean and honest together. To Laura, then. I hope to hell she knows what she's doing."
"She loves him." Margo sipped and decided that champagne would be her signature drink. "God knows why, or why she thinks she has to marry him just to sleep with him."
"Well, be realistic." She wandered to the garden door, sighed. "Sex is a stupid reason to get married. The fact is, I can't think of a single good one. Of course, Laura isn't marrying Peter just for sex." Impatient, she tapped her fingers against the glass, listened to the ring. "She's too romantic. He's older, more experienced, charming if you like that sort. And of course, he's in the business, so he can slip right into the Templeton empire and reign right here so she can stay at the house, or choose something close by. It's probably perfect for her."
"Don't start crying."
"I'm not, not really." But she was comforted by the hand he laid on her shoulder, and she leaned into him. "I'm just going to miss her so much."
"They'll be back in a month."
"I'm not going to be here." She hadn't meant to say it, not to him, and now she turned quickly. "Don't say anything to anyone. I need to tell everyone myself."
"Tell them what?" He didn't like the clutching feeling in his stomach. "Where the hell are you going?"
"To L.A. Tonight."
Just like her, he mused and shook his head. "What wild hair is this, Margo?"
"It's not a wild hair. I've thought about it a lot." She sipped again, wandered away from him. It was easier to be clear when she couldn't lean on him. "I have to start my life. I can't stay here forever."
"That's not for me." Her eyes lit, the cold blue fire at the center of a flame. She was going to take something for herself. And if it was selfish, then by God, so be it. "That's what Mum wants, not what I want. And I can't keep living here, the housekeeper's daughter."
"Don't be ridiculous." He could brush that off like a stray mote of lint. "You're family."
She couldn't dispute that, and yet ... "I want to start my life," she said stubbornly. "You've started yours. You're going to law school, Kate's going off to Harvard a full year early, thanks to her busy little brain. Laura's getting married."
Now he had it, and sneered at her. "You're feeling sorry for yourself."
"Maybe I am. What's wrong with that?" She poured more champagne into her glass, defying him. "Why is it such a sin to feel a little self-pity when everyone you care about is doing something they want and you're not? Well, I'm going to do something I want."
"Go to L.A. and what?"
"I'm going to get a job." She sipped again, seeing it, seeing herself, perfectly. Centered in the light of excitement. "I'm going to model. My face is going to be on the cover of every important magazine there is."
She had the face for it, he thought. And the body. They were killers. Criminally stunning. "And that's an ambition?" he said, with a half laugh. "Having your picture taken?"
She lifted her chin and seared him with a look. "I'm going to be rich, and famous, and happy. And I'm going to make it on my own. Mommy and Daddy won't be paying for my life. I won't have a cozy trust fund to bounce on."
His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Don't get bitchy with me, Margo. You don't know what it is to work, to take responsibility, to follow through."