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Kenny’s Department Store, with its handsome Edwardian facade and meticulously hand-selected goods, is the jewel in the crown of the small Irish town of Ardagh. Star Bluestone sells her beautifully crafted tapestries at Kenny’s. Made with natural dyes, they embody her earthy spirit and creative vision, but she has a special reason for caring about Kenny’s that extends far beyond her sales. And for Ingrid Fitzgerald, hotshot political journalist and wife of workaholic David Kenny, the store is the “other woman” in ...
Kenny’s Department Store, with its handsome Edwardian facade and meticulously hand-selected goods, is the jewel in the crown of the small Irish town of Ardagh. Star Bluestone sells her beautifully crafted tapestries at Kenny’s. Made with natural dyes, they embody her earthy spirit and creative vision, but she has a special reason for caring about Kenny’s that extends far beyond her sales. And for Ingrid Fitzgerald, hotshot political journalist and wife of workaholic David Kenny, the store is the “other woman” in her marriage. With her children leaving home and her career taking off, she is worried that her marriage could be in jeopardy. Charlie Fallon, one of David’s staff, is among the first to hear the rumor that the store is faced with a takeover bid. With an owner who doesn’t seem his usual self and the threat of closure looming closer—what does the future hold for these women who are bound together by its fortunes?
With her expertly drawn characters and heartfelt storytelling, this satisfying novel proves that “Cathy Kelly knows exactly what women want” ( Publishers Weekly ).
Be kind to other women. It really works — most of the time. And even on those days when it doesn't, it'll make you feel better inside.
That night, Ingrid sat at the beautifully laid dinner table in a grand old house with her husband, David, and eleven other elegantly dressed couples, and wished with all her heart that she weren't there. The scent of the freesias in the crystal bowl in the center of the table fought valiantly with the women's perfumes, which were predominantly musky with the odd note of sharp florals. Ingrid loved scent, but she hated the heavy, cloying perfumes so many women wore at night, as if they were using pheromones to attract cavemen rather than attending a civilized dinner party with their husbands.
She reached across the snowy white tablecloth and pulled the bowl closer, leaning forward to smell the pure, clean flowers. Instantly, she was transported to her terrace on a late spring day, where she would sit reveling in the seclusion as she read the morning papers. Pity she wasn't there now. Stop, she told herself. The evening wasn't going to grow magically shorter by wishing it was over.
The problem was that these people were David's friends. Odd how a couple could be married for thirty years and still have such disparate friends. They shared some, people they'd known all their married life, but their careers had brought them a collection of acquaintances from two completely different worlds.
Tonight was a night for David's people, in particular their host, the owner of a large transport company useful to Kenny's. Three other businessmen whom David knew were also present: wealthy men with glamorous wives who had beautiful hair and nails and wore diamonds of every possible cut.
Looking around the table, Ingrid decided that the dinner party was entirely made up of successful men and their wives. There were no businesswomen; Ingrid could spot them from fifty paces, for no matter how successful they were, they were never quite as polished as the wives of alpha men. Years of interviewing the great and the good on Politics Tonight had taught her that it was rare for an alpha man to form a lasting relationship with a woman who had as much power as he did. People were probably amazed that she and David had stuck together; most men would have been uncomfortable sharing the limelight with a woman who made her living grilling politicians on live TV. But then, David wasn't most men. He was, Ingrid thought, smiling across the table at him, special.
He caught her eye and smiled back, and she thought how well he looked in his gray suit and pale pink shirt. She knew he was tired because of the lines around his eyes, but nobody else would pick up on that. They'd see the usual handsome, charming David Kenny, the man who'd inherited the family firm and taken it to a whole new level. In the same way, nobody looking at Ingrid would see a woman with a mild headache who didn't want to be here. They'd see what she wanted them to see: a woman who'd pulled out all the stops with hair and makeup, yet remained modest in the diamond department. Ingrid felt that knuckle-duster rings were like push-up bras: you either liked them or you didn't.
The only interesting thing about nights out schmoozing David's business acquaintances was that Ingrid ceased to be Ingrid Fitzgerald, the television personality who'd kept her maiden name from her days as a radio producer; she was Ingrid Kenny, David's wife. And sometimes, just sometimes, that made her deliciously invisible. Like now.
The man seated on her left turned to talk to her.
"You're Mrs. Kenny, aren't you?" he said. He was sixtysomething, balding, with a weathered complexion that spoke of many hours spent outdoors, probably on the sea, Ingrid decided. His outfit, a blue blazer with gold buttons, had a hint of Commodore of the Yacht Club about it.
"Yes," said Ingrid gently, sensing that he had no idea who she was professionally. "I'm Ingrid, David's wife."
"Marvelous business," the commodore said, grabbing his glass of red wine. "Kenny's — what a store. I don't suppose you have time to be involved yourself, do you? I know what you ladies are like; so many other things to do, charities, committees...." He smiled at her benignly. "My wife, Elizabeth — that's her over there in the red — she's on four committees. I don't know where she finds the time."
Elizabeth was a steely-eyed brunette who was expertly made up and wore an exotic beaded creation. She was watching Ingrid and her husband with interest. Ingrid reckoned that Elizabeth recognized her from television and was just as sure that Elizabeth knew the poor old commodore wouldn't.
"Well, I am involved in some charities," Ingrid said to her neighbor. She was a patron of an AIDS charity, served on the board of a domestic abuse organization, and regularly hosted charity balls. "But I don't have that much time, because I work too."
"Oh, really," said her neighbor airily, as if the notion of a woman working were highly eccentric and would never catch on. "And what is it you do?"
It was moments like these that Ingrid stored up to tell her friend Marcella whenever Marcella claimed that everyone and their lawyer knew who Ingrid was.
"You've such a recognizable face," Marcella insisted.
"It doesn't work that way," Ingrid replied. "Famous is for film stars and singers, not people like me. People recognize me, they just don't know where from. They think they must have seen me in the supermarket or something."
The downside of her being on television was going into Marks and Spencer and nipping up to the underwear department to find several people watching her with fascination as she searched among the briefs, trying to find a five-pack of knickers that suited her.
Anyway, here was this sweet man who clearly had no idea who she was, and it was quite nice, although difficult to explain what she did without making herself sound bigheaded about it. Another woman in her position might have fixed him with a grim glare and told him she was one of the highest-paid broadcasters in the country and could make politicians whimper for their mummies. But Ingrid preferred a low-key approach.
"I work in television," she said simply.
"Oh, really! Interesting. My daughter worked in television for a while, researching stuff. It was a terrible job, awful pay, and, goodness, there was no hope of really climbing the ladder. Only a few seem to make it," he went on.
"Yes," echoed Ingrid, "only a few do seem to make it."
Ingrid thought of her years climbing the television ladder. It had been challenging at times, but she hadn't had to stiletto anyone in the groin to make it to the top — a fact that many people interviewing her these days for newspaper profiles found incredible.
"It must be so much tougher for a woman," they said, eager to hear about glass ceilings, male-dominated power structures, and male broadcasters bitching about her as they got subtly patted with MAC Face and Body in makeup.
"The media — this part of it, anyway — is one of the few areas where women can do well easily," Ingrid would explain. But nobody appeared to believe that her own calm self-confidence and native intelligence had made it work.
"What about you," she said politely to the commodore, "what do you do?"
It was all the encouragement the commodore needed. He was soon explaining the difference between a yacht and a boat, and Ingrid let her attention wander. Across the table, her husband seemed to be enjoying himself talking to a lovely woman who'd been introduced to her earlier as Laura.
She liked watching David. He was charming to everyone, not in a false way but in a way that said he was interested in other people. His father had been the same, always ready to talk to everyone in the store, from the cleaners to the general manager.
Okay? David mouthed at her across the table.
Ingrid nodded imperceptibly. She was fine.
"Sorry you got stuck with Erskine," he said three hours later in the back of the taxi on their way home. He put his hand in hers and held it tightly as they both sat back after what had turned out to be an incredibly heavy meal. Double cream with everything. Ingrid's insides yearned for Pepto-Bismol.
"Oh, don't worry," Ingrid said. "He was quite nice really, but I'm now an expert on boats, and if I ever need to interview anyone on the subject, Erskine is the man I will ask."
David laughed. He had a great laugh, rich and deep, the sort that made everyone else want to join in. Out of the corner of her eye, Ingrid could see the taxi driver grin as well. They were undoubtedly the sort of customers the driver liked: polite, sedate, middle-aged people being picked up from one beautiful suburban house and whisked off to another, with no chance of anyone throwing up in the back of the cab or not having the money to pay him.
"Erskine probably didn't have a clue who you were, did he?" David asked perceptively.
"Not the foggiest," Ingrid said. "I may have left him with the impression that I made the tea in the television studios."
"Oh, you shouldn't have done that!" David laughed. "That's cruel. I bet his wife knew, all right. She's probably telling him the truth right now."
"No, it's not cruel," Ingrid said. "He was terribly sweet and everything, but you know, he does live on this planet, he should be interested in politics."
"I'm quite sure he is interested in politics, darling," David replied mildly, "but not everyone watches television."
It was an idea that Ingrid had heard many times before, but one that she could never quite grasp. She was of the opinion that people should know what was going on in the world, and television news and debate was an inherent part of that.
"I'd say old Erskine sits at home reading copies of Yachting Man and books about naval battles from three hundred years ago," said David. "Happy in his own world. And why not?"
Ingrid shrugged. She and David would never agree on this one. He was able to forgive people for not wanting to read four newspapers a day; she wasn't.
"You were lucky," she said, "sitting beside that gorgeous Laura person."
"She was a sweetheart," David said. "Although she did spend a fair proportion of the evening telling me about her daughter, who'd love to get some experience in the store and has lots of marvelous ideas for fashion design."
"God, no," groaned Ingrid, "not another one of those."
When she went to media parties, she was forever being cornered by people desperately pitching their CVs or their son's or daughter's CVs in the hope of breaking into television via a personal introduction from the powerful and famous Ingrid Fitzgerald. When David went to parties, people told him about sons and daughters who were clothes designers or who had created a line of pottery that Kenny's couldn't afford to be without.
"Did the girl sound okay?" Ingrid asked.
"She sounded very promising," David said. "I told Laura to send the CV to Stacey."
Stacey O'Shaughnessy was his executive assistant, a wonderfully kind person who ran his office life as expertly as Ingrid ran his home life.
"You're a terrible old softie, do you know that, David Kenny?" Ingrid said.
"Right back at you," he said. "You could have flattened poor old Erskine by telling him exactly who you were, but you didn't, did you?"
"No," Ingrid said. "I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I was mean to the Erskines of this world, even though I disapprove of their ignorance."
"I'll tell that to the minister for defense," murmured David.
"Erskine is an old duffer who obviously inherited money and never had to do more than put on an old school tie to get on in the world. The minister for defense is a highly paid public representative who should know better than to write character references for a man on trial for rape, just because the accused's parents happen to live in his constituency. There's a difference," Ingrid said. She could feel herself getting heated again, the way she had before the program in question. Ingrid never lost it on the show; then, she was coolness personified. She used her passion for her preparation, when she worked out how to phrase her questions in such a way so that her subject couldn't avoid answering.
"True. You were right to nail him," David said. "He deserved it."
"Yes, he did." Ingrid sighed, the flare of anger gone. At least David understood why she did what she did. She couldn't bear injustice. The idea that a government minister's character reference could hinder the conviction of a rapist incensed her. David knew her so well, he understood her crusading spirit.
"Just here is fine, beside those big gates," David said to the taxi driver.
They got out and Ingrid found her keys in her handbag while David paid the driver. She was delighted to be home on the early side. It wasn't even twelve yet. With luck, she'd be asleep before one and get up late the following morning; maybe the two of them could sit in the conservatory with some coffee, reading the Saturday papers. She had just keyed the security number into the side gate when David joined her.
"Lie-in tomorrow?" she asked as they walked up the path to the house.
"Sorry, afraid not," he said. "I have to go into the office for a couple of hours. I've an absolute ton of work on."
"Oh, David," she said, "you live in the bloody place." The words were out before she could stop them. Ingrid hated sounding whingey. Her own job could be all-consuming at times, and if anyone understood how work could claim a person, she did.
"Just for a few hours," he said, "all right? I'll be back by two, three at the latest."
"Okay," she said, and squeezed his hand. "Sunday morning lie-in?"
"Promise," he replied.
"I'm holding you to that. I have my needs, you know," she added in a teasing voice.
"I know all your needs, Ingrid Kenny," he said, "and wouldn't the public love to, too!" His voice trailed off mischievously.
The dogs greeted them as they opened the front door. While David went to switch off the alarm, Ingrid got down on her knees to pet them. "Hello, darlings," she said. "Sorry we were out, but we're back now."
Somewhere in the back of her mind was the awareness that David hadn't reacted as he normally did to her flirtatious reference to needs: instead of grabbing her by the hand and taking her upstairs to bed, he'd made a joke about it.
He was tired, she told herself. She was, too. She was so used to reading nuance into every sentence at work; it wasn't fair to do it to poor David.
The duty dinner done, the weekend stretched ahead of her. She had no work, no functions to attend, no charity events; it would be one long, glorious rest, and she was looking forward to it. Molly, their daughter, was coming for lunch on Sunday, which would be wonderful. If only Ethan were coming too.... Ingrid felt the magnetic pull of her laptop in the study. She could just nip in and see if Ethan had eâ€‘mailed her from Vietnam, which was where he and the gang were now. But if he hadn't eâ€‘mailed, that would make it four days since his last contact, and Ingrid found that after three days she went into a kind of slow panic if she hadn't heard anything. No, she'd go to bed. If he hadn't eâ€‘mailed, she wouldn't sleep for worrying. Though even if he hadn't eâ€‘mailed, it didn't mean anything bad had happened, did it?
Ingrid woke alone the following morning, starfished in their huge bed. Her hand reached over to David's pillow and found nothing. He must have gone to the store, she thought drowsily, and wriggled farther under the covers to doze again. The sheets felt warm; the bed was soft. She felt in the bed, her limbs a part of it. If she kept her eyes closed and allowed her mind to drift, she'd be asleep again.
After about five minutes, she knew that wasn't going to happen. Her mental database had started up. Ingrid often wished there were some system whereby she could plug a USB cable into her head and connect it directly to the computer, so that all the stuff that rattled around in her mind could be magically transferred to her laptop hard drive instead. She could compose entire eâ€‘mails in her head, write letters, draft speeches, work out exactly what she'd say to the opposition health spokesperson on the program that night, all while lying in bed at five o'clock in the morning. Some of her best work was done in that perfect predawn stillness. She'd once been asked to take part in a magazine feature about career women's hints for success. She'd said the normal stuff everyone else did about making lists and trying to be organized, doing grocery shopping online, catching up on phone calls on her phone headset in traffic. She did all those things — but she'd never mentioned the early-morning mental download. It sounded too manic, as if she was constantly switched on. But then, she was — her mind racing, scanning ideas, deleting them, speeding on to the next one. Like now.
Fighting it never worked. It was better to go with the flow. She needed to take the cream dress with the caramel beading on it to the dry cleaner, because she would need it for the Domestic Abuse Association's dinner at which she was the guest speaker on Thursday night. It was a good dress, always worked; it didn't matter whether she had put on a few pounds or not. Which reminded her, she hadn't been to the gym all week, and she needed two workouts and a swim to keep that awful middle-aged spread at bay. Ethan might have eâ€‘mailed. She sent a silent prayer that he had. Please, God, please keep him safe.
She had to reply to the latest batch of eâ€‘mails from people looking for a start in the TV industry. She loved helping people, but sometimes she got so many eâ€‘mails that it was impossible to deal with them all. She liked to answer those herself; they weren't something she could hand over to her personal assistant, Gloria. Gloria was wonderfully efficient — she handled Ingrid's diary and organized all the reams of research she needed for her job — but Ingrid preferred writing a lot of her letters herself. No journalist could let someone else write for her. Hell, that was another thing — she'd been asked to be a patron of a journalism course.
Ingrid had never attended a journalism course. She had come into the business by a rather circuitous route: after her politics degree, she got her start in radio, working behind the scenes as a researcher and then producing, before moving into television news and, from there, taking the totally unexpected giant leap into presenting. She approved of journalism courses and approved of helping people, but there really wasn't enough time. Her schedule was always hectic, too hectic for all the causes she wanted to support. And even though the children were grown up, she still needed to make time for her family.
Tomorrow, Molly was coming for Sunday dinner. As she lay in bed with her eyes closed, Ingrid smiled. Her darling daughter was the reason the beautiful cream dress needed a trip to the cleaners. Molly had borrowed it for a formal event two months before.
"Mom, I'm really sorry, I meant to get it dry-cleaned," she said, "only I knew I'd forget about it and it'd get left there, so I thought I better drop it back to you first and — "
"It's fine," Ingrid had interrupted. "Honestly."
And she meant it. Kind, wonderful Molly was twenty-three and hopeless at things like dry cleaning and having milk in the fridge, but she was a one-woman powerhouse when it came to campaigns to help other human beings. Molly's ethical work made Ingrid feel like a capitalist pig. Molly was involved in so many causes that it was a miracle she found time to do anything. By day, she was press officer for Fight Poverty, an organization that worked with disadvantaged children. At night and on weekends, she solicited donations for an animal shelter and donated her services to a charity that funded a small school in Kenya and hoped to fund two more. She cared about her carbon footprint, cycled everywhere, and owned two rescue cats. She didn't care much about ironing her clothes or eating food by its best-before date. Her mother was endlessly grateful that Molly lived with Natalie, her best friend and a person with organizational skills to rival Madonna's; otherwise Molly and the cats would all be in their respective hospitals with food poisoning.
If only Ethan, twenty-one and currently on a yearlong trip around the world with a group of friends, had one person in his entourage to match Natalie, then Ingrid would sleep so much better at night.
Ethan was usually quite good at eâ€‘mailing home, although most of the time his missives were frustratingly short.
Hi, Ma and Pa — Having a brilliant time, weather not great but the people are. Don't worry, we're all fine. Love Ethan.
Ingrid, who looked at everything in the paper and had the news on practically twenty-four hours a day, could hardly bear to look at any story about twentysomething world travelers anymore. When she came across stories about Vietnam and Thailand, she was terrified that she might see something that would spell impending disaster for Ethan. He was traveling with five friends, all big, strong lads, and clever too, but that didn't stop her worrying. At twenty-one, they were innocents abroad, a bunch of friendly Irishmen who thought the best of people and had a smile for anyone. All it would take was for them to turn up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and who knew what might happen. No matter how hard she had tried to teach her children a little of her own cynicism, it hadn't worked. Ingrid could imagine Ethan smilingly helping some sweet girl get on the plane, holding her rucksack to be kind — and he'd be the one caught with whatever drugs she was trying to smuggle. Nobody would believe Ingrid if she told them that her son didn't do drugs, that he was a good kid, that he'd clearly been duped. She'd be like every other mother who protested her son's innocence. And they'd say: "Of course she believes him, but we know he's guilty."
She couldn't bear it. She had to get up and stop thinking like this.
Even if David had been there, Ingrid wouldn't have told him about her anxiety. David simply didn't understand it.
"Ethan will be fine, you know," he'd say when she let herself go with a stream-of-consciousness rant about what could happen to six hopelessly naïve young guys. No, even worse, what was it David had said the last time?
"You have to let him go, Ingrid. He's an adult, not a little boy."
She felt the rip of rage again, the combination of anger and helplessness at knowing that she couldn't give her son a quick hug. That's all she wanted: to jump on a plane to see him, to touch him for five minutes; then she'd get back on the plane happy, because she'd know he was okay.
"I have let him go," she'd hissed at David. "But he's my son. I love him and he'll always be a part of me, so I'm frightened."
Then the analytical Ingrid Fitzgerald had taken over, the woman who had interviewed thousands of spin doctors and psychologists over the years, who knew how to skewer an interviewee but who never normally brought her interviewing skills home. "Letting go is not what I'm talking about," she said coolly. "You can let somebody go and still worry about them. I need to be able to share that with you, because if I can't...well, we shouldn't be together, should we?"
David had sat up straight then. He'd been lolling on the couch with an after-dinner brandy, idling through one of the many newspapers they had delivered to the house every morning. The sharpness of her words had hit him hard. Something flickered in his eyes: fear, Ingrid thought, and she was glad she'd hurt him, glad she'd given him a kick to remind him that he had to work at this relationship too. Then she'd done something she almost never did: she walked out of the room, because she didn't want to talk to him anymore. She loved David, absolutely. After thirty years of marriage, she still loved him, but she adored her kids. Children were the third point in the eternal love triangle. It was a pity David didn't understand that.
He'd apologized, and she'd forgiven him, almost. Ingrid didn't believe in nursing grievances or in letting old arguments take root, but it had been very hard to accept David's apology without screaming at him that he didn't understand her at all.
Molly and Ethan might be grown-ups, but they would always be her children, and when it came to protecting them she would kill with her bare hands, if it came to that.
She turned the shower off, wrapped herself in a towel, and faced herself in the mirror. She looked tired today, every one of her fifty-seven years. It took longer in the makeup chair at the studio now to make her look like Ingrid Fitzgerald, longer to make those shrewd gray eyes appear open and alert, especially with that drooping skin above her eyelids. She'd had her skin lasered to reduce fine lines, but the next step was an eye lift, something she was putting off. She'd seen too many women who were preternaturally young; and while photographic retouching could make surgery look good in photos of movie stars, in real life women could appear strangely wrong, as though their faces were denying the wisdom of the lines they'd earned. Only the best surgeons were able to make people look like themselves but better. Ingrid knew such a surgeon, but she was still scared. Regular Botox was an occupational imperative. She was fundamentally opposed to the very notion of it. But she was also a realist who liked her job. Youth had such power. She was lucky — and, yes, she knew there was some luck in there — that in current affairs, age was less important than in other television arenas. If her job had been presenting a chat show, she'd have been fired about the time she turned forty-three. But in her field, age and gravitas were valued among men and women. Yet who knew when that might change? Ingrid accepted that one day, her face would be judged too old for television. All it would take was some focus group led by a twenty-one-year-old hotshot pronouncing that young viewers switched off in droves at the sight of a postmenopausal woman, and that would be it. Ingrid Fitzgerald's television career would be summarily over, except for voice-overs on history compilations or an occasional documentary. She was far too shrewd not to know that one day this would happen.
Still, there was nobody here to see her or her wrinkles today. God knew when David would be back. Off with his mistress, she thought with a hint of bitterness: the store.
Down below, the dogs began to howl. They weren't allowed upstairs, but when they sensed someone was up and wasn't rushing down to play with them, they began to whine pitifully.
"Be down in a minute," roared Ingrid. It was nearly ten, so it had been a lie-in after all.
When she was ready, she hurried down and sat on the bottom step as the dogs nuzzled into her with frantic delight. "Don't pretend that David didn't let you out earlier, you little scamp," she said affectionately as Lucinda, a golden cocker spaniel, started her desperate-for-a-pee dance. Then Sybil, a black-and-white mutt they'd got from Molly's dog shelter, began to do the dance too.
Ingrid opened the kitchen's double doors into the garden, and both dogs barely made it out before they sank to their haunches in prolonged peeing sessions.
Ingrid stared, puzzled. They clearly hadn't been out. The only explanation was that David, up at the crack of dawn, had left without going into the kitchen for breakfast and the dogs hadn't heard him. Occasionally, if Ingrid woke early, she found the dogs snoring peacefully in their baskets and had the pleasure of seeing them wake and sleepily wag their tails. They were both old and their hearing wasn't as good as it had once been, rendering them pretty hopeless as guard dogs.
What was David doing, racing off so early on a Saturday that he hadn't even had time for coffee or to let the dogs out?
A flutter of disquiet beat in her heart. True, he'd always been obsessed with the store, even more so in the past five years since the expansion.
"When you borrow that much money, you need to spend more time at work," David had told her in the months after the store reopened following its twelve-million-euro revamp, and he was there morning, noon, and night. "Nobody else can do it but me, Ingrid. I have to be there. You know that."
Ingrid, who normally felt a certain relief that David was the main shareholder of Kenny's because she knew of other family-run businesses where there were constant arguments over each mug bought out of petty cash, wished for the first time that he had brothers or sisters to help him.
Money wasn't the issue. She got a good salary: without a penny of David's money, they'd have been able to live comfortably. Ingrid had no desire for massive wealth. Lord only knew why, most of the people with vast sums of money seemed to double their problems with every year. For every rich person donating money to AIDS research, there were fifty more with kids who refused to work and wanted to do nothing more energetic every day than use cocaine and wrap their Lamborghinis around lampposts.
Who needed huge wealth? They didn't.
Surely they were at the point in their life when they could slow down a little, take more time off. She was doing less work these days; why couldn't David do the same?
With the same disquiet, Ingrid let the dogs back in, fed them their breakfast, and took out the coffee to make hers. She felt like phoning David and asking what was so bloody important that he'd had to rush off at dawn. But that type of conversation never worked. Being a skilled interviewer had taught her that there was never going to be a civil answer to a question couched in such terms.
"What do you mean, 'what was so bloody important'..." he'd respond, and they'd be off arguing.
No, far better to say nothing until later and then remark kindly that he must be tired after getting up so early, and that they could postpone their dinner out that night so he could go to bed early. And then he'd explain why he'd been up early, and they'd be having a conversation instead of a hostile interrogation. If there was a problem, he'd tell her then. And Ingrid had the strangest feeling in her gut that there was a problem.
She had breakfast watching satellite news, the dogs at her feet hoping for scraps of wholemeal toast and honey.
"I promise we'll go for a walk soon," she told them.
She normally loved Saturdays when she had no specific place to be; the luxury of knowing that her time was completely her own thrilled her. But today she felt unsettled and couldn't put her finger on exactly why. Keeping herself busy, that was the trick.
When she'd walked the dogs, she tidied the kitchen with her usual energy, then went into her small study to make a list of eâ€‘mails and letters she had to write. Nothing from Ethan. She did her best to calm the anxiety she felt at no word from him. She worked methodically for an hour, then powered down the computer, ran upstairs, and collected everything that needed to be dry-cleaned. Finding a jacket of David's, she sat down for a moment, thinking about him. Between him and Ethan, all she did was worry. No, she must be positive. Ethan was probably having the time of his life. And as for David...Marcella — that was it, she'd ring her best friend, Marcella.
She went down to the hall phone, the one with the programmed numbers on it, and brought up Marcella's.
It was an unlikely friendship — Ingrid Fitzgerald, whose interviewing technique exposed the inadequacies of the great and the good, and Marcella Schmidt, image guru, whose job was keeping those inadequacies from the public view. Marcella ran her own spin-doctoring company and taught politicians and captains of industry how to talk to the media. If a formerly babbling, foot-in-mouth minister showed up talking sense and wearing a decent suit instead of a shiny one, odds were he'd been given the Schmidt treatment. And if a big company boss found himself on an industry advisory panel that covered him with glory and made people forget that he'd been caught coming out of a lap-dancing club three sheets to the wind with his arms round two lithe dancers, he'd been Schmidted too. Marcella was brilliant at her job and she loved it. That was why the two women had hit it off, Ingrid knew: shared passion. So what if Ingrid's job was to find the cracks in the politicians Marcella had Teflon-coated? They worked in the same lions' den.
Ingrid knew that if she were photographed in flagrante in a hotel room with some glamorous captain of industry, Marcella would be the one she'd turn to. Not that such a thing would ever happen, but still. If shit ever hit Ingrid's fan, she'd speed-dial Marcella Schmidt.
"Hi, Marcella, it's Ingrid," she said now when her friend picked up the phone. "How's the luscious Ken Devlin?" It was their running joke. Latin-looking god Devlin was television's hottest young talk-show host and one of Marcella's big successes.
"Can't get enough of me." Marcella sighed as if she were worn out from his amorous attentions.
"Still. Wants to have wild sex with me into the middle of next week."
"Only next week? What about the week after?"
"He doesn't have the stamina for the week after," Marcella said with a grin in her voice. "Young men — can't keep up with older women. That would be an interesting opinion piece for the papers: 'When Your Sexual Peak and His Don't Match.'"
"Only if you want to be humiliated forever for being a fortysomething woman writing about having sex with a younger man," said Ingrid. She realized that Marcella was kidding. "You know the rules. Male silver fox and younger woman? Totally acceptable, and man gets slapped on the back by all his envious friends. Female silver fox and young man? Collective 'yech,' and everyone thinks either she's paying him or he has an Oedipus complex."
"Pity," sighed Marcella. "I need an opâ€‘ed idea for the Courier Mail."
"Personal never works," Ingrid said. "You should know — you tell people that often enough. Anyway, when did you bonk a much younger man? How did that slip past my radar?"
"Nothing slips past your radar," Marcella retorted. "Oh, it was years ago. Technically, it probably doesn't count, since I was only thirty-seven and he was thirty-one, and the age issue only counts when you hit forty. Before forty, you have a permit to screw anything you like. After forty, it needs an act of parliament. Besides, it was before I knew you. Just after I divorced Harry."
The big difference in their lives was personal: Marcella had been married twice in her youth and divorced both times. The first husband was rarely mentioned, but she was still friends with her second. Harry was often around; he was funny, kind, handsome in a rumpled-professor sort of way. Ingrid adored him and was curious as to why he and her best friend had divorced, but because it had all happened before she'd met Marcella, it had never been discussed on a forensic level. Marcella merely talked about how she and Harry were too similar for comfortable living conditions. Clever, opinionated men who were used to being in control were great as friends but very annoying as actual husbands.
When Ingrid saw the two of them together at a party, arguing happily over everything from politics to the merits of the latest movies, she wondered if it would have been different if they'd had children. Kids rubbed off rough edges very quickly. But that had never happened. After Harry, a suitable settling-down man had never come along. Marcella had looked for him, that was for sure. She'd gone to parties, met men at friends' dinner parties, taken scuba-diving holidays with a lone-travelers group, trekked Peru and made fabulous friends with two men — a gay couple who ran a successful restaurant in Donegal. But the man of her dreams eluded her. Without him, there were no babies with Marcella's laughing dark eyes and sallow skin. At forty-nine, Marcella fitted so seamlessly into the role of aunt-by-proxy that nobody would ever guess she'd longed for her own children.
Occasionally, the subject came up. Like the time a journalist phoned Marcella with a blithe request for an interview for a piece called "Childless by Choice."
"Childless by choice?" Marcella had hissed that night as she sat in Ingrid's kitchen and sank a glass of Stellenbosch red, even though it was a weeknight. "Who is childless by choice? Very bloody few people, that's who. And if they are, good luck to them. Let them talk to journalists about their decision and how they prefer not to add to the world's population or how they know parenting's not for them and decided to be grown-up about it. Good luck to them." She was hoarse with anger. "But most of us aren't childless by choice. We're childless by mistake, childless by never finding the right bloody man, and if we do, he's putting off being a father till he's made his money and he's not interested now, honey, and ' let's just have fun! Have you thought about Capri for a holiday?' "
"She's totally insensitive, that reporter," Ingrid said, trying to lessen the blow. "When we were doing the general election program, she did an interview with me and asked was it depressing at my age to work in an industry where women in their fifties were sidelined because their looks had disappeared."
David, who was cooking at the stove, exploded with laughter. "What did you tell her?" he asked his wife.
"I gave her my very intense interviewing stare," Ingrid replied with a grin, "and said it was sad that women were still judged on their appearance, and that the glory of being older and wiser was not worrying so much about the outward face but rather about the person inside."
Marcella looked up miserably from her glass of wine. "So you didn't tell her we spend ages discussing plastic surgery and that we'd be having face-lifts like a shot if only we weren't so photographed that people would instantly know we'd gone under the knife?"
David laughed uproariously again.
Ingrid joined in, then sighed. "I get so sad thinking that I have to have a face-lift," she said. "Botox is one thing." Her hand stroked her smooth forehead. "But a face-lift is so radical. Yes, I know I work in television, but it goes against all the things we believe in, Marcella: that women are brilliant and a few lines on your face shouldn't make you any less brilliant."
"I don't know what I believe in anymore." Marcella sighed. "I used to believe there was someone out there for me, and there isn't. Just me, my job, and people asking me how it feels to be a sour old spinster who's childless by choice."
"Believe in that wine," David said, refilling her glass.
"You're such a lovely man," Marcella said. "Why don't you have a brother for me, David? Why didn't I ever find someone as nice as you?"
Ingrid and David exchanged worried looks. Marcella didn't get down very often, but when she did, her emotional elevator went down to the basement at warp speed.
"I'm not as lovely as you think, Marcella," David said kindly. "I'd drive you mad, wouldn't I, Ingrid?"
"Stone mad," Ingrid had agreed.
Ingrid wondered now what Marcella would say if she blurted out her concerns about David, that he'd rushed off to work at first light on a Saturday morning leaving her with the feeling that something was wrong, that David was keeping something from her.
Marcella was lightning quick. "Is there trouble with the store?" she'd ask, which was exactly the question rippling through Ingrid's mind. She decided not to mention her anxiety to her friend. If there was something wrong, David would tell her. It was disloyal to mention her fears before she had anything concrete to be worried about. Perhaps tonight they'd have a chance to talk.
"What are you up to today?" Marcella asked.
"I was about to ask you that," Ingrid replied lightly. "I'm here on my lonesome, as David has rushed off to Kenny's to make sure it doesn't all blow up in his absence."
"Men, huh?" Marcella laughed. "Can't live with them, can't run them over with a truck."
Ingrid relaxed. Her lightness had worked. Normally, Marcella was so attuned to people's tone of voice that she could gauge anyone's mental state from a five-second conversation.
"Do you want to have lunch with me?" Ingrid asked. "I keep hearing about this new brasserie in Dun Laoghaire near the pier. Want to try it?"
"Beside the fish place? Tonio's or Tomasio's or something? Count me in. Meet you in Dún Laoghaire at one?" Marcella said.
Ingrid dropped off the dry cleaning and arrived at the restaurant at exactly the same time as Marcella. Lunch was hugely enjoyable. They generally tried not to talk too much shop. It would have been wrong to discuss which client Marcella was working with because chances were, sooner or later, he or she would end up on one of the navy leather chairs on Ingrid's set with Ingrid as high inquisitor. They talked about politics, policy, and people.
It wasn't gossip, Marcella always pointed out. Gossip implied a certain nastiness, and there was never nastiness in their talks. They were interested in human nature, that was all. And they met every aspect of human nature in their work. In the middle of all the policy talks, business meetings, and sound bites were people who worked hard, got passionate about their jobs, made mistakes, made deals, fell in and out of love.
Marcella and Ingrid were fascinated by the people behind the public façades: who had to make a speech in the Dáil chamber after being up all night with a colicky baby but would never mention it, and who'd use every nugget from their personal life for their own gain while not really caring about their family at all. It was no surprise that they both loved The West Wing; but wonderfully, they also both loved Neil Diamond, dancing, and clothes.
Marcella had the knack of wearing layers well. Expensive layers. It never worked when they were cheap layers, Marcella explained, because two cheap TÂ€‘shirts and a little top worn at the same time looked bulky on anybody. Only the flimsiest fine layers that cost the earth and looked as if they'd been boiled for years in a washing machine hung with the right sort of casual elegance.
Ingrid, who had a more formal style for television and was used to fitted suits for work and elegantly cut jeans and jackets for weekends, envied Marcella's exquisite wardrobe.
"It all looks like you just threw it on effortlessly, yet you look fabulous," she said in exasperation.
"Effortless is very hard," Marcella responded, looking down at her layered sleeveless tops, wrap top, and long, slender skirt in varying shades of silver gray. "And expensive. Have you any idea how much these little vest-top things cost? I could buy a Fendi handbag with the cash I spent on this outfit."
"That's obscenely expensive," said Ingrid, shocked.
Marcella laughed. "You sound just like Molly when she was going through her secondhand stage."
"She still is. Mind you, it's better than spending millions on clothes."
"You old lefty! You've only yourself to blame. You and David gave her a social conscience so she wouldn't be another spoiled-brat celebrity child. It's nice that she prefers to give money to developing countries rather than spend it on clothes."
"You're right," Ingrid said proudly. "There aren't many people as kind as Molly out there. Although I'd love her to come round to the idea that you can feed the world and wear nice things. Still, she borrowed a dress of mine for a wedding, so perhaps she's moving out of the all-secondhand stage."
"There must be a man on the scene."
"No." Ingrid was thoughtful. She rather wished there were. Not that she desired her daughter to be married off for any reasons of propriety, but she wanted to think Molly was happy being loved in the same way that Ingrid and David loved each other. Love and honest partnership with someone you cared for and respected: what a joy that was.
It would be Ingrid and David's thirty-year anniversary later that year, and they'd talked idly about a party and a cruise in the Indian Ocean. They were so lucky, Ingrid thought every time she heard of another marriage going belly-up. And luck was involved, no doubt about it. They worked at their marriage, for sure; but it had been luck that brought them together in the first place, two people so instantly compatible.
Lots of breakups came as no surprise to Ingrid. As a person wildly interested in human behavior, she couldn't be shocked when Laurence and Gillian, old friends of hers from college and married twenty-seven years, separated abruptly. The only surprise was that they'd stuck with each other for so long. Laurence was at his happiest sitting in his garden doing the crossword and planning, someday, to mow the lawn. Gillian played badminton competitively, worked full-time, and was never home.
She and David, on the other hand, were very different in many ways, but they complemented each other. She felt a rush of love for him and wished he'd confide in her about whatever was wrong. He might not understand the fierce, feral passion of a mother's love, but then, could any man? And she loved him with all her heart, no doubt about it.
When she got home at three o'clock, David was back and with a small gift: a tub of goose fat from Kenny's exquisite food hall.
"For me?" she asked in amusement, turning it over in her hands. "Am I supposed to rub myself in it?"
"It's for the potatoes tomorrow," David said, planting a kiss on her cheek. "I know, a tub of bath oil would be better, but Molly's coming for Sunday lunch and you know what she's like about roast spuds. This is a present for all of us, not just you. Although" — he was smiling — "you can rub yourself with it if you'd like to."
He seemed in such good humor that Ingrid knew she must have been entirely mistaken to worry about him earlier. She put her present down, grinning. Many women would have thrown the tub at him, but Ingrid had always been realistic about romance. David, despite working in a store overflowing with feminine gifts, had never been the sort of man who came home every week with perfume and flowers. And Ingrid could cope with that; if she wanted flowers, she bought them herself.
"There's nothing like goose fat for proper roast potatoes," he went on, opening the fridge and poking in it for a snack.
"Did you not have lunch?" Ingrid asked.
"I had brunch," he said from the depths of the fridge. "I woke up very early and thought I might as well go to work and get it over with, and then Stanley came in with a BLT and it smelled so good, we all had them. From O'Brien's Deli — the place is booming since they got that new cook."
Ingrid relaxed some more. She knew there was an explanation for his early start. She was right not to have said anything to Marcella.
"You must be tired, darling," she said. "We can skip dinner out tonight, if you want."
They'd planned on a pizza out, just the two of them in the place down the road.
"Well..." he said, looking a bit shamefaced. "We can't. Jim Fitzgibbon is over from London, he was on to me this morning, and I'd forgotten I'd promised him dinner next time, and he insists it was tonight we set it up for — "
"Dinner with Jim and Fiona?" Ingrid gulped. Fiona was a sweetheart, but Jim, one of David's oldest friends, was a property-obsessed bore.
"Not Fiona, no," said David reluctantly. "He and Fiona are going through a bad patch. It's someone else."
"Someone else? Are they getting divorced?"
"I think that might be in the cards. They've separated. He's very cut up about it. Sorry, love, I know it'll be a pain for you, but I can't let him down. You don't have to come if you don't want to. I can say you're not well or — "
Solidarity was another vital ingredient in a marriage, Ingrid thought. Women's magazines from years ago used to go on about how romantic gestures were the beâ€‘all and end-all of a relationship, but Ingrid, recipient of a lovely tub of goose grease, knew there was a lot more to it than that. If David wanted to comfort his old friend about the breakdown of his marriage, she'd be there too. She made a mental note to contact Fiona on Monday. There were few things Ingrid hated more than people who cut off half of a couple after a split.
"Who's this woman he's bringing tonight?" she asked David in the car on the way to the restaurant in Dublin.
"Don't know," he said simply.
"You're hopeless," she said in exasperation. "That's the sort of thing I like to know."
"Ah, that's only people like you and Marcella," David replied, "people who are obsessed with the world's private business. The rest of us are quite happy to meander along."
"Are we obsessed?"
"Totally," he replied.
Ingrid was wary of what was waiting for them in the restaurant. Jim was bad enough with the lovely Fiona to offset his awfulness, but God alone knew what sort of woman he'd come up with now. Fiona dated back to the time before he had loads of money.
Ingrid loved eating out. She always reckoned that the people who ran restaurants were the people who really knew what was happening in a city. Renaldo's was one of the country's premier spots, with a Michelin star to its name and a twenty-year reputation for fabulous food and wonderful service.
But tonight she wasn't in the mood. Two nights with people she didn't know was two nights too many. At least Molly was coming to lunch the next day, something to keep her sane.
The dinner was interminable. Jim, florid in a red striped shirt and cream jacket, was in show-off mode, and Ingrid didn't know whether he was showing off to his new amour or just showing off in general.
He was back in Dublin for the opening of an apartment complex, and within the first ten minutes the entire restaurant must have heard how they'd "cleaned up, totally cleaned up. Cost us fifteen million yoyos, and now we're on the pig's back. Sold fifty apartments off the plans. On the pig's back, David, I tell you! Yeah, waiter! We're ready to order the wine. Let's have some of that Cloudy Bay, the '99, I think, and a bottle of Dom Perignon to start. That'll get the party going!"
Jim's new woman was a showy brunette named Carmel, an unusually normal name for someone who looked as if she'd prefer to be called something exotic like Kiki or Scheherazade. Carmel was in her late thirties, had clearly been Botoxed and Restylaned to within an inch of her life if her relentlessly smooth forehead and big lips were anything to go by, and was heavily spray-tanned from the roots of her sculpted dark hair down to her pedicured designer-sandal-clad feet. She wore vinyl-red lip gloss and a very expensive dress, and spoke in a faux low voice about herself all night.
"I'd love to work in television," she said.
Ingrid tried to smile. Those words had been the death knell for many an evening.
"I'm very intuitive, you see," insisted Carmel, and then embarked on a monologue that showed her to be far too fascinated by herself to ask even a single question about anyone else.
Ingrid, who was forever finding herself seated alongside dinner guests with narcissistic tendencies, zoned out and merely nodded or murmured yes from time to time. Experience had taught her that it was fatal to attempt any real conversation. People who liked talking about themselves never had any. Easier by far to smile and acquiesce.
Carmel also made several trips to the ladies' and returned slightly more animated each time, which convinced Ingrid that her other interest — apart from newly separated millionaires and being intuitive — was cocaine.
Hell wasn't other people; it was coked-up other people.
By eleven, they'd just finished the cheese and Jim was waving his arm to urge the waiter with the liqueurs trolley to take another turn in their direction. Ingrid thought she might get up and stab Jim with her knife. Or even a spoon. It would be possible, she was sure, if she used enough force. She looked longingly at her husband, but he was avoiding her anguished gaze.
What was wrong with David? He'd been talking in a low voice to Jim all night. Even though he knew she was being bored rigid by Carmel, he hadn't tried to include the two women in their conversation or even to drop the "we can't stay late because we have to go home and let the dogs out" excuse.
Ingrid tried to kick him under the table, since she was too far away to grab him with a clawed hand and scratch "help" on his thigh. But she couldn't reach to kick. She glared at him. He knew her signals by now.
"Another cognac, David? Ah, you will. Sure, it's Sunday tomorrow. You don't have to get up or anything. Herself can bring you the breakfast in bed." This was accompanied by a nudge and a wink.
Ingrid folded her napkin and put it firmly on the table. "Jim, Carmel, what a lovely evening," she said crisply, reaching down for her small clutch bag. "But we'll have to pass on another drink. I'm exhausted, and I know David is too. Thank you so much." She got to her feet, slipped her wrap from the back of the chair, and put it round her shoulders.
Jim and Carmel stared up at her, but David, who'd seen Ingrid utilize her emergency departure trick before, merely smiled and got to his feet. Action was important, a legendary Irish actress had once told Ingrid.
"If they're bores, they're going to want to continue to be bores, and no matter how much champagne you drink, that won't improve. Get up gracefully, move back from your chair, gather your things, and say good-bye firmly. There's no way back from that."
"Might they not think you're rude?" Ingrid wondered.
"You do it with style and speed," the actress went on. "Imbue yourself with the glamour and power you've worked for, my dear. You're a star and, though you might not like to turn it on, you can when you need it. Flick that switch, become the TV star, and state that it's time for you to go. Never fails."
It didn't fail now either.
Jim blustered a little bit. "You don't have to go yet — "
"Thank you for a lovely evening," Ingrid repeated. Really, there were things in her fridge that were smarter than Jim.
"Good night, Carmel." Ingrid held out her hand. She couldn't face the hypocrisy of kissing this woman good-bye.
They didn't speak in the taxi on the way home. If David had wanted to ensure that they didn't have any civil conversation that night, he'd done a good job, Ingrid thought as she lay in bed, too annoyed by the whole evening to sleep.
He was dozing already, and Ingrid sighed and picked up her book.
Ingrid enjoyed Sundays; they were family days, and she prided herself on cooking Sunday lunch. She liked cooking. Nothing fussy, just good simple food with no pretensions. Everyone had their favorites. Molly adored grilled fish, salad, and roast potatoes followed by Ingrid's homemade caramel meringue. Ethan loved roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and something sinful in the chocolate department for dessert. David's favorite was garlicky chicken with stuffing and smelly cheese to follow.
Ingrid's own favorite was nothing to do with food: it was having them all there.
Today, she had the radio set to her favorite Sunday news chat show; the double doors into the garden were ajar to let a little air in, and the dogs were arranged bonelessly on the tiled floor, worn out after a fast four-mile walk. Ingrid had woken early again and found she couldn't sleep, except this time David was fast asleep beside her, looking gray with tiredness. She'd slipped out of bed quietly and taken the dogs out for their walk before buying the papers and sitting down to read them with a pot of coffee beside her. He'd finally emerged at nearly one, unshaven and unshowered.
"Coffee?" Ingrid had asked. It was unlike him to sleep so late, and now he looked wretched. "You look terrible, David," she added. "Didn't you sleep?"
"No," he said, and it was almost a growl of exhaustion. "I'm overtired." He sank into one of the kitchen chairs.
"You don't have any pain in your arm or anything?" she asked, trying to stay calm but feeling terrified because he looked so unwell. He could be having a heart attack and he mightn't know it. It would be just like him to sit there and say, "Yes, darling, phone for an ambulance if you have a moment."
"Don't fuss, Ingrid," he said sharply. "I'm fine, really. I've a pain in my head, not my arm, and coffee would be great. Please," he added after a pause.
She nodded, feeling weak with shock. And then anger. There was no need to speak to her like that. She'd only been asking —
"Surprise!" said a voice.
Their daughter stood in the kitchen, arms full of bags. "You're all getting deaf," she said, putting down her stuff and then petting the dogs. "I yelled hello when I came in."
Ingrid shot her daughter a look that Molly could interpret easily after twenty-three years. It was the "don't bother your dad" look.
Molly nodded imperceptibly and hugged her father gently. Ingrid could see his face relax.
"How are you, pumpkin?"
"Fine, Dad." Molly planted a kiss on his forehead. "Late night?"
"A bit," David admitted ruefully. "Jim Fitzgibbon was pouring wine into me."
Molly chuckled, and left her father to give her mother a hello kiss. "Since when has anyone had to pour wine into you, Dad?" she teased, and just like that, the tension went out of the room.
"Are you calling me a boozer, you brat?"
Both women laughed.
"If the cap fits..." said Molly. "Only kidding. Where were you, anyway?"
"Renaldo's," said Ingrid, getting out another cup for her daughter. She poured more coffee and sat down at the table beside her family.
"How's Fiona?" asked Molly.
"That's the problem." Ingrid sighed. "Jim and Fiona have split up, so we had to meet his new woman. I don't think she was your cup of tea either, love?"
Ingrid smiled at her husband, a peacemaking smile to say she was sorry she'd been so angry about having to endure the evening, and could he be sorry for being such a grouch?
"No," David agreed. "Sorry about that. On the phone, Jim made her sound like a cross between Mother Teresa and Angelina Jolie."
Molly's eyes widened. "And was she?"
David's smile to Ingrid reached his eyes. "Not really. She looked fine — "
" — a bit obvious," Ingrid interrupted. "A spray-on Gucci minidress and pole-dancing sandals isn't exactly the right outfit for a first-time dinner with your new partner's oldest friend."
"It was the conversation that was the problem," David went on. "She wants to be in television."
"You were listening?"
He grinned. "Sorry, I know you thought I wasn't rescuing you. Despite all his boasting, Jim's business is in trouble, and he wanted to bend my ear about it. I couldn't interrupt him, but I heard the bit about television."
"One of those." Molly groaned.
"How's Natalie? When's Lizzie's wedding?"
"The fourteenth. Apparently Lizzie's always had a thing about being married on Valentine's Day. The hen night's next weekend, and the flat's full of mad stuff, pink fluffy ears and things."
Ingrid smiled. Her pre-wedding party had been a very sedate affair compared to the ones girls had now. "Are you going to the hen night?"
"Not so far. Natalie wants me to, but I'm trying to get out of it. Lizzie's great, but I'm not one of her longtime friends and everyone else at the hen night is. She's known them for years."
Ingrid nodded, but she felt the catch in her throat she so often felt about her older child. Molly had always been shy, although she hid it well enough. She was friendly and charming, well brought up enough to be polite, so few people realized how shy she was. She'd never been one of those children comfortable in the middle of a group; for the first year of school, she'd cried every single morning when Ingrid left her.
"Oh, hen parties are all a bit mad now," Ingrid said nonchalantly. "It'll probably be wild," she added, wishing that, for once, Molly would want to join in. Ingrid knew that you couldn't make a person behave in a certain way, but how could two such outgoing people as herself and David have a daughter who was the opposite?
At school, there had never been any special friend, never any one little girl Molly adored and brought home to play. Molly was at her happiest in her own company, reading or talking to the pets — back then, the family had a mad collie with one ear and a minxy cat who collected small cuddly toys and brought them into Molly's bed at night.
Molly loved to curl up on her bed and read, with one or both of the animals snuggled beside her. Accepting that her daughter was a solitary little person had been one of the toughest lessons Ingrid had ever had to learn.
Ingrid was thrilled that her darling Molly shared a flat with Natalie. They'd met at college and, for the first time in her life, Molly had found a close friend.
Both were serious in their own ways: Molly with her charity work, and Natalie with her absolute dedication to jewelry design. Natalie had put herself through college and was working part-time in the café in Kenny's to raise funds to set up her own business. She had lots of drive and ambition, yet there was a vulnerable side to her, Ingrid felt.
Trust Molly to have held out until she found a friend with integrity.
When Molly had gone, Ingrid walked around tidying up. She loved their house. Guests were surprised to see that it was the antithesis of Kenny's Edwardian charm. Instead, Ingrid and David's home was coolly modern, with large open-plan spaces and swaths of pale wall. The floors were bleached wood, except in the kitchen, where the restaurant-style stainless steel was offset by polished poured-concrete slabs. Ingrid's love of white was reflected in couches and chairs upholstered in warm white loose covers, with color coming from the artwork on the walls, including many works by the emerging artists whom David loved to support. The large burst of color in the hall came from a giant tapestry from Kenny's, one of the unusual Bluestone tapestries. It depicted a wooden house nestled in a glade of trees, all of which was partly obscured by banks of peonies in the foreground.
The nine o'clock news began, and David was already yawning. Ingrid watched him affectionately and thought of the joke when they were younger about being "in bed before the news." Of course, back then they went to bed to make love. These days, that happened somewhat less. Tiredness, Ingrid knew, was a major reason. And although it was a subject they were careful to talk about, it took longer for both of them to get in the mood than it had when they were younger. The wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am days were over. Ingrid had never liked speedy sex anyway, even though it was flattering to think that David couldn't wait for her, needed to be inside her. But she rarely orgasmed that way: she needed time and gentleness, and now their lovemaking took time. It suited her, working up to heat instead of exploding into a fireball straight off.
"Let's go to bed," she said softly.
David looked up from the news, his clever gray eyes intense as they stared at her. Unreadable, she would have said, had it been anyone else. But she knew him and all his moods. She could see desire there.
He flicked off the television with the remote control, stretched long legs out slowly, then got to his feet. He held out his hand. "Come on," he said.
Their bedroom was one of the few carpeted rooms in the house, and as soon as they reached it, Ingrid took off her shoes and let her bare feet luxuriate in the soft wool. She switched on the lamps, letting light warm the room, creating a burnished glow on the expanse of bed covered by a king-size silk throw in muted jade.
"Are you too tired?" she asked David as she sat on the edge of the bed and began unbuttoning her crisp white shirt.
He shook his head, then joined her.
Ingrid hadn't been a virgin when she'd met David. She'd had three lovers, which, she knew, was quite average. He'd had more, and they'd promised never to become jealous of people long gone in the way some couples did.
All Ingrid knew was that her other lovers had never been able to make her feel as if this was the only way to make love, as if now was the most perfect moment. She had no idea how many times they'd gone to bed together over the course of their marriage, but as soon as David's hand wound its way around and pulled her closer so he could kiss her, she felt that familiar stirring inside.
Tonight, there was an urgency in his kisses, and he cradled her skull in both hands as their mouths merged. When he gently pulled her shirt away from her body and curved his fingers over her breasts, it was as if he'd never done it before. Ingrid let herself melt into this fresh passion. This was his apology, she knew. He was saying sorry for his distance in the only way he could: by making love to her.
When he finally entered her, his familiar face above hers, Ingrid felt a surge of pure happiness. This was love, she thought, raising her head to nuzzle his shoulder. Sharing everything with another human being. She knew his body as well as she knew her own, knew when he was close to orgasm, knew that if she concentrated on the fierce heat and if his fingers reached into her wetness, she'd explode at the same time he did. And then it came: fireworks inside her, a single explosion searing into thousands of exquisite ripples that made her cry out.
He fell onto his side of the bed with a groan afterward, and Ingrid kept the contact between them by stretching one bare leg over his. She lay there quietly and happily, listening to his breathing slow until she was sure he was asleep.
"Good night, darling David," she murmured, kissing him.
In reply, he muttered something she didn't quite hear.
With one last gentle pat, she drew the sheet up around his waist, then got out of bed to go through her nighttime routine. Cleanse, moisturize, brush teeth. As she stood in the bathroom and carefully creamed her skin with body lotion, she reflected again on how no cosmetic could make a person feel beautiful in the way being loved did. Copyright © 2009 by Cathy Kelly
Posted March 4, 2011
Posted December 6, 2009
In Ardagh, Ireland, Star Bluestone is the last of a long line of women who for generations were pagans in an ocean of Christianity. She cares what happens to the females in her town although she conceals her efforts to quietly help them.
TV reporter Ingrid Fitzgerald is horrified as her male counterparts grow old they remain on the air while her female peers are replaced by beautiful blonde bimbos. She knows her time to be placed on the shelf is coming soon. Ingrid loves her husband David Kenny, owner of the town's heart and soul, Kenny's Department Store and their children, who have left the nest empty. Charlie Fallon appreciates working in the store's art gallery where she sells incredible tapestries designed by Star, and loves her husband and son, but has never been able to tell her despotic mother to let her live her own life. Finally there is jewelry designer Natalie, who seeks to learn more about her late biological mom, who begged on her dying bed for everyone to not burden her daughter with her heritage. However, David has been acting strange of late, sort of heartbroken, as rumors spread he is losing the store and perhaps much more, which worries the townsfolk.
This is a whimsical Irish work of contemporary fiction that hooks the audience from the onset as the women of Ardagh struggle with change that seems to be unstoppable. The story line is character driven with each of the females above and others dealing with the transformation that could leave their town without its soul, Kenny's Department Store. Though the ending may seem too simple to some readers, Cathy Kelly provides a Brigadoon for the Internet age as the small town tries to overcome being the latest victim of takeover disguised as globalization progress.
Posted May 30, 2010
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Posted February 7, 2014
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Posted November 13, 2011
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Posted March 20, 2011
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Posted February 6, 2011
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Posted January 18, 2010
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Posted April 19, 2011
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