Read an Excerpt
Eleven months later …
JORDAN RECHECKED HER MAKEUP. Thanks to Kristin, a stylist friend of Margot’s, she had become an expert in the uses of concealer. She’d learned not only how to erase the violet smudges beneath her eyes, but also how to use blush and the right hues of lipstick to emphasize her cheekbones and mouth. By employing a subtle mix of tones around her eyes, she’d discovered that she could fool people into thinking that the shadows lurking in them were exotic, mysterious, rather than a darkness that threatened her soul.
She raised her ringless hands to smooth her hair, which she’d decided to wear loose today. Better to look feminine than professional: in Nonie Harrison’s world not too many women actually worked.
Rising from the small bench in front of her vanity table, she checked the floral print crepe de chine skirt and ivory sleeveless silk knit top in the mirror and wondered what was missing. Jewelry, of course. She bent down and opened a square leather case and found a pair of antique gold earrings that had belonged to her mother and a delicate diamond pendant that Margot and Travis had given her for Christmas.
There, she looked understatedly elegant, exactly how Nonie would expect Jordan Radcliffe to appear. Meet people’s expectations and they rarely bothered to look deeper.
No need to take a sweater or a light jacket, she thought, as she picked up her purse off the white bedspread. It was a glorious spring day … wasn’t that funny, how the days had slipped by? The Virginia air was mild, sweetened with the perfume of sunshine-kissed flowers. This year’s crop of foals was frolicking in the pastures with their dams. The breeding season was upon them. Nocturne, the stallion they had standing at stud, was eager to meet his mares in the breeding shed. All around her Rosewood was bursting with life. How sadly out of step with the farm she was, so blighted and dead inside. But that, too, Jordan had learned to conceal from the world.
She left her room on the third floor and went into the adjacent attic bedroom shared by Kate and Olivia, a smile lighting her face. Olivia and Miriam Banner, their housekeeper Ellie’s niece, were sprawled on the pale blue and pink hooked rug building a tower with Olivia’s cardboard nesting blocks. As soon as Miriam placed the last block atop the slender pyramid, Olivia lurched to her feet and kicked the tower with a happy cry.
“Hi, there, Olivia,” she said.
At the sound of her voice, Olivia’s face lit up and she tottered over on stubby legs, her short arms held out—a blond, mini-Frankenstein with a cherub’s smile.
Jordan scooped her up and kissed the sweet hollow of her neck. “Let’s get you changed so you’ll be nice and clean when you and Miriam go and pick up Kate and Max at school, okeydokey?”
Miriam rose to her feet. “I can do that—”
“That’s okay. I’ve got her,” she replied, already setting down her purse. She laid Olivia upon the changing table, pulled down the elastic waistband of her blue-and-cream-striped leggings, and undid the tabs on the diaper. Moving with the precision of a pit stop mechanic at the Indy 500, Jordan shucked the diaper, dropped it into the garbage pail by her feet, cleaned Olivia with a baby wipe, sprinkled her bottom and thighs with baby powder and, for good measure, her rounded tummy, too, and then fastened a fresh diaper. Up went the leggings, down went the dancing dog printed T-shirt, and Olivia was good to go.
“All done,” she announced, hefting her powder-fresh baby in her arms. “Now, Miriam, are you sure you’re okay with picking up Kate and Max?”
“Okay. I left the minivan’s keys on the tray in the front hall. For lunch there’s mac and cheese. It’s in the fridge, wrapped in foil. For dessert you can—” she stopped in mid-sentence at Miriam’s grin.
“It’s cool, Jordan, I’ve got the routine down. We’ll be fine. Remember, you’re only going out to lunch. It’s not like you’ll be away for a week.”
The thought of being separated from her children for an entire week made her slightly faint. “I’ll be back by three. If you could get Max to nap when Olivia goes down, that would be great. Tell him if he does, he’ll have a better riding lesson with Jade. And I have my cell in case you need me.”
“Of course you do,” Miriam nodded gravely. “And in case all the satellites get taken out by an asteroid, Aunt Ellie might be able to give me a hand. Don’t know whether I can count on Margot coming to the rescue, though, since after lunch she’ll be all the way down at the main barn.”
Jordan managed a weak laugh. “Right. Thanks for the reality check.”
“Have a good time at lunch. You’ll knock Mrs. Harrison off her feet, I’m sure. Now, give Mommy a kiss bye-bye, ’Liv, and then you and I are going to build the biggest tower ever.”
“Bye, bye,” Olivia said.
Bless her for being a happy, carefree baby and not a neurotic mess like her mother, Jordan thought, squeezing her daughter tight and kissing her cheek.
“Okay, all I have to do is grab my tote with the fabric swatches I picked out for Nonie, and I’m gone, really.”
“Good. So go already.” Miriam shooed her off with a grin before dropping down to the rug to play with Olivia.
She took the back staircase down to the kitchen. As she’d hoped, Margot was there, fixing an overstuffed sandwich for Travis and a salad for herself.
Margot looked up. “Hey,” she said, smiling. “You look great. Too bad you’re wasting such a pretty skirt on Nonie Harrison.”
“Mmm, that looks delicious.” She picked up a pitted black olive from Margot’s salad and popped it into her mouth. “And the outfit won’t be wasted on Nonie. I wouldn’t get past her front door, let alone be considered for the job of decorating her guest house, if I were to show up for lunch dressed in mommy gear. Even with my hair bushed, lipstick applied, and my blouse free of baby drool, it’ll be a minor miracle if she gives me the commission.”
Margot picked up a knife and sliced the thick sandwich in half. “Why wouldn’t Nonie pick you? It’ll probably take all of ten minutes of listening to your ideas to recognize how good you are. If she doesn’t hire you, it won’t be because you can’t do the job. It’ll be because she’s jealous that you’re beautiful and talented.”
Jordan laughed. “That’s sweet of you. But we’re talking about me. Let’s remember who’s the successful model here.”
Her sister stopped crumbling goat cheese on top of the salad to glare fiercely at her. “You of all people shouldn’t buy into that hooey, Jordan. I’m not any more beautiful than you—or millions of other women. The reason I’m successful as a model has nothing to do with my being especially beautiful and far more to do with the fact that the distance between my earlobe and my jawline is just so and my eyes happen to be spaced exactly thus far apart.” She held out a cheese-coated thumb and index finger to indicate the width before picking up the crumbled mound and scattering it over the dark greens. Salad finished, she took the thick sandwich she’d made for Travis and transferred it onto a plate. “I’m paid ridiculously good money because of a lucky roll of the genetic dice and because my face happens to photograph well. Oh, and also because I haven’t let even a crumb of one of your ‘death by chocolate’ brownies pass my lips no matter how much I’ve craved a bite. Big whoop,” she said with a bored sniff.
Grabbing a bag of potato chips and dumping a small mountain of them next to Travis’s sandwich, she continued. “What I do doesn’t take any talent. I only wish I could be like you—you’ve always been able to make things beautiful. Remember when we were little? How on rainy days you’d go upstairs and rearrange all the rooms in that Victorian dollhouse Mama gave you? Remember the wallpaper and the slipcovers you made for those teeny sofas and chairs?”
“Margot, that was child’s play.”
“What you did for Travis and my bedroom certainly wasn’t. I hated what Nicole had done to that room. But you made it wonderful for us, hanging the photographs Charlie Ayer took of Travis and me with Nocturne, and choosing exactly the right colors and furniture for the room—and for us. Travis loves hanging out there.”
She raised a skeptical brow. “Somehow I think he enjoys your bedroom for an entirely different reason than my decorating taste.”
A happy smile lit Margot’s face. “Well, maybe, but you picked out the linens and the bed, too. That sleigh bed is so great. And what about the amazing job you did on the third floor?”
“Yes, you did,” she said firmly. “It was drab and beyond sad up there before. You transformed all those rooms, turned them into these special havens for you and the kids. That ability is so much a part of you, Jordan, you don’t even realize how good you are. Other people have to pay through the nose for what you do instinctively. They may read about what antiques are all the rage and what kind of floral arrangements are must-haves for their foyers, but they still need a decorator to tell them where to put the darned things or what kind of a vase to use. It’s not just decorating you’re good at, either. Think of how you and Patrick have planned a new flower bed for the garden. It’s already looking beautiful. Or the cookies and breads you bake that have everyone running to the kitchen as soon as they come out of the oven. That’s real talent, Jordan.”
It was sweet of Margot to try and boost her ego before her first sales pitch as a decorator, but Jordan knew she was far from special. “Stop. You’re making me sound like Wonderwoman.”
“You are in my book.”
Right. Did Wonderwoman’s husband leave her for a size 36D, streaked-blond associate with an appetite for adulterous, lunch-hour couplings? She didn’t think so.
Her thoughts must have shown on her face, for Margot’s own expression tightened. She stepped forward and wrapped her arms about her, saying fiercely, “Don’t you dare let what Richard’s done make you sell yourself short.”
Jordan hugged her back. “I’ll try not to.”
The back door opened, and Travis came into the mudroom. He bent down and unlaced his paddock boots, leaving them next to the pair Margot had shed earlier. Ellie Banner had a thing about barn dirt in the house.
Walking over to Margot, he looped an arm about her waist and kissed her.
Jordan quickly averted her eyes, fixing them on the salad Margot had prepared. Spying two more olives buried under the crumbled cheese, she plucked them out. So what if her breath smelled like olives rather than toothpaste by the time she arrived at Nonie’s?