By Danielle Steel
Random House Danielle Steel
All right reserved. ISBN: 0739321196
The sun was brilliant and hot, shining down on the deck of the motor yacht Blue Moon. She was 240 feet, eighty meters, of sleek, exquisite powerboat, remarkably designed. Pool, helipad, six elegant, luxurious guest cabins, a master suite right out of a movie and an impeccably trained crew of sixteen. The Blue Moon-and her owner-had appeared in every yachting magazine around the world. Charles Sumner Harrington had bought her from a Saudi prince six years before. He had bought his first yacht, a seventy-five-foot sailboat, when he was twenty-two. She had been called the Dream. Twenty-four years later, he enjoyed life on his boat as much as he had then.
At forty-six, Charles Harrington knew that he was a lucky man. In many ways, seemingly, life had been easy for him. At twenty-one, he had inherited an enormous fortune and had handled it responsibly in the twenty-five years since. He had made a career of managing his own investments and running his family's foundation. Charlie was well aware that few people on earth were as blessed as he, and he had done much to improve the lot of those less fortunate, both through the foundation and privately. He was well aware that he had an awesome responsibility, and even as a young man, he had thought of others first. He was particularly passionate about disadvantaged young people and children. The foundation did impressive work in education, provided medical assistance to the indigent, particularly in developing countries, and was dedicated to the prevention of child abuse for inner-city kids. Charles Harrington was a leader of the community, doing his philanthropic work quietly, through the foundation, or anonymously, whenever possible. Charles Harrington was a humanitarian, and an extremely caring, conscientious person. But he also laughed mischievously when he admitted that he was extremely spoiled, and made no apologies for the way he lived. He could afford it, and spent millions every year on the well-being of others, and a handsome amount on his own. He had never married, had no children, enjoyed living well, and when appropriate, took pleasure in sharing his lifestyle with his friends.
Every year, without fail, Charlie and his two closest friends, Adam Weiss and Gray Hawk, spent the month of August on Charlie's yacht, floating around the Mediterranean, stopping wherever they chose. It was a trip they had taken together for the past ten years. It was one they all looked forward to, and would have done just about anything not to miss. Every year, come hell or high water, on August first, Adam and Gray flew to Nice and boarded the Blue Moon for a month-just as they had done on her predecessors every year before that. Charlie was usually on the boat for July as well, and sometimes didn't return to New York until mid- or even late September. All his foundation and financial matters were easily handled from the boat. But August was devoted to pure fun. And this year was no different. He sat quietly eating breakfast on the aft deck, as the boat shifted gently, at anchor, outside the port of St. Tropez. They had had a late night the night before, and had come home at four a.m.
In spite of the late night, Charlie was up early, although his recollections of the evening before were a little vague. They usually were when Gray and Adam were involved. They were a fearsome trio, but their fun was harmless. They answered to no one, none of the three men were married, and at the moment none had girlfriends. They had long since agreed that, whatever their situations, they would come aboard alone, and spend the month as bachelors, living among men, indulging themselves. They owed no one apologies or explanations, and each of them worked hard in his own way during the rest of the year, Charlie as a philanthropist, Adam as an attorney, and Gray as an artist. Charlie liked to say that they earned their month off, and deserved their annual trip.
Two of the three were bachelors by choice. Charlie insisted he wasn't. His single status, he claimed, was by happenstance and, so far, sheer bad luck. He said he wanted to get married, but hadn't found the right woman yet, despite a lifetime of searching. But he was still looking, with meticulous determination. He had been engaged four times in his younger days, although not recently, and each time something had happened to cause the wedding to be called off, much to his chagrin, and deep regret.
His first fiancee had slept with his best friend three weeks before the wedding, which had caused a veritable explosion in his life. And of course he had no choice but to call off the wedding. He had been thirty at the time. His second bride-to-be had taken a job in London as soon as they got engaged. He had commuted diligently to see her, while she continued to work for British Vogue, and could hardly make time to see him while he waited patiently in the flat he'd rented just so he could spend time with her. Two months before the wedding, she admitted that she wanted a career, and couldn't see herself giving up work when they got married, which was important to him. He thought she should stay home and have kids. He didn't want to be married to a career woman, so they agreed to part company-amicably of course, but it had been an enormous disappointment to him. He had been thirty-two at the time, and ever more determined to find the woman of his dreams. A year later he was sure he'd found her-she was a fantastic girl, and was willing to give up medical school for him. They went to South America together, on trips for the foundation, to visit children in developing countries. They had everything in common, and six months after they met, they got engaged. All went well, until Charlie realized his fiancee was inseparable from her twin sister, and expected to take her everywhere with them. He and the twin sister had taken an instant dislike to each other, which turned into heated debates and endless arguments each time they met. He felt certain that they would continue to dislike each other in alarming ways. He had bowed out that time too, and his would-be bride agreed. Her sister was too important to her to marry a man who genuinely despised her twin. She had married someone else within a year, and her twin moved in with them, which told Charlie he'd done the right thing. Charlie's last engagement had come to a disastrous end five years before. She loved Charlie, but even after couples counseling with him, said she didn't want children. No matter how much she said she loved him, she wouldn't budge an inch. He thought at first he could convince her otherwise, but he never did, so they parted friends. He always did. Without exception. Charlie had managed to stay friends with every woman he had ever gone out with. At Christmastime, he was deluged with cards from women he had once cared about, decided not to marry, and who had since married other men. At a glance, if one looked at the photographs of them and their families, they all looked the same. Beautiful, blond, well-bred women from aristocratic families, who had gone to the right schools, and married the right people. They smiled at him from their Christmas cards, with their prosperous-looking husbands at their side, and their towheaded children gathered around them. He was still in touch with many of them, they all loved Charlie, and remembered him fondly.
His friends Adam and Gray kept telling him to give up on debutantes and socialites and go out with a "real" woman, the definition of which varied according to their respective descriptions. But Charlie knew exactly what he wanted. A well-born, well-heeled, well-educated, intelligent woman who would share the same values, same ideals, and had a similarly aristocratic background to his. That was important to him. His own family could be traced back to the fifteenth century, in England, his fortune was many generations old, and like his father and grandfather, he had gone to Princeton. His mother had gone to Miss Porter's, and finishing school in Europe, as had his sister, and he wanted to marry a woman just like them. It was an archaic point of view, and seemed snobbish in some ways, but Charlie knew what he wanted and needed, and what suited him. He himself was old-fashioned in some ways, and had traditional values. He was politically conservative, eminently respectable, and if he had a fling here and there, it was always done politely, with the utmost discretion. Charlie was a gentleman and a man of elegance and distinction to his very soul. He was attentive, kind, generous, and charming. His manners were impeccable, and women loved him. He had long since become a challenge to the women in New York, and the many places where he traveled and had friends.
Everybody loved Charlie, it was hard not to.
Marrying Charles Harrington would have been a major coup for anyone. But like the handsome prince in the fairy tale, he had searched the world, looking for the right woman, the perfect one for him. And instead he met lovely women everywhere, who seemed delightful and appealing at first, and always had a fatal flaw that stopped him in his tracks just before he got to the altar. As much as it was for them, it was disheartening for him. His plans to marry and have children had been thwarted every time. At forty-six, he was still a bachelor, through no fault of his own, he said. Wherever the right woman was hiding these days, he was still determined to find her, and Charlie felt sure he would, one day. He just didn't know when. And for all the impostors masquerading as the right women, he was able to detect their fatal flaws every time. The one thing he consoled himself with was that he hadn't married the wrong one. He was determined not to let that happen. And he was grateful that so far he hadn't. He was ever vigilant and relentless about those fatal flaws. He knew the right woman was out there somewhere, he just hadn't found her yet. But one day he knew he would.
Charlie sat with his eyes closed and his face to the sun, as two stewardesses served him breakfast, and poured him a second cup of coffee. He had drunk a number of martinis, preceded by champagne the night before, but after a swim before he sat down to breakfast he felt better. He was a powerful swimmer, and a skilled windsurfer. He had been the captain of the swimming team at Princeton.
Despite his age, he was fiercely athletic. He was an avid skier, played squash at every opportunity in the winter, and tennis in the summer. It not only improved his health, but he had the body of a man half his age. Charlie was a strikingly handsome man-tall, slim, with sandy blond hair that concealed whatever gray he'd acquired over time. He had blue eyes and, after the last month on the boat, a deep tan. He was a stunning-looking man, and his preference in women ran to tall, thin aristocratic blondes. He never thought about it particularly, but his mother and sister had both been tall blondes.
His mother had been spectacularly beautiful, and his sister had been a tennis star in college when she dropped out to take care of him. His parents had both been killed in a head-on collision while on vacation in Italy when he was sixteen. His sister had been twenty-one, and had left Vassar in her junior year, to come home and take on the responsibilities of running the family, in the absence of their parents. It still brought tears to Charlie's eyes when he thought about his sister. Ellen had said she would go back to finish college when he went to college two years later. It was a sacrifice she was more than willing to make for him. She had been an extraordinary woman, and Charlie adored her. But by the time he left for college, although he didn't know it, and she said nothing to him, Ellen was ill. She had managed to keep the seriousness of her illness from him for nearly three years. She said she was too busy working at the foundation to go back to college, and he had believed her. In fact, she had a brain tumor, and fought a valiant battle. They had determined early on that the tumor was inoperable because of its location. Ellen died at twenty-six, just months before Charlie graduated from Princeton. Charlie had no one to see him graduate. With his sister and parents gone, he was virtually alone in the world, with a vast fortune, and a great sense of responsibility for all they left him. He bought his first sailboat shortly after he graduated and for two years he sailed around the world. There was barely a day that went by that he didn't think about his sister and all she had done for him. She had even given up college for him, and had been there for him in every way until she died, just as his parents had been before. Their family life had always been harmonious and loving. The only thing that had gone wrong in his early life was that everyone who had loved him, and whom he loved, had died, and left him alone. His worst fear was of loving someone else, and having them die too.
When he'd come back from traveling the world on his yacht, he was twenty-four years old. He had gone to Columbia Business School and gotten an MBA, and learned about his investments, and how to run the foundation. He had grown up overnight and become responsible for everything in his world. Charlie had never let anyone down in his life. He knew that neither his parents nor Ellen had abandoned him intentionally, but he was alone in the world, without family, at a very young age. He had remarkable material benefits, and a few well-chosen friends. But he knew that until he found the right woman, he would be alone in important ways. He wasn't going to settle for anything less than what he felt he deserved, a woman like his mother and Ellen, a woman who would stand by him till the end. The fact that they had ultimately left him alone and terrified wasn't something he admitted to himself, not often anyway. It hadn't been their fault. It was simply a rotten turn of fate. Which made it all the more important for him to find the right woman, one he knew he could count on, who would be a good mother to his children, a woman who was nearly perfect in every way. That was vital to him. To Charlie, that woman was worth the wait.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Toxic Bachelors by Danielle Steel Excerpted by permission.
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