Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy--yes, that Wendy. That is, until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she's been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but very dangerous. Holly is desperate to find Eden and protect her son, Jack, from a terrible web of family secrets before she loses both her children. And yet she has no one to turn to--her mother, Jane, is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she's always imagined. Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.
|Penguin Publishing Group
|5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
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The Darlings age well. Everyone says so, and they say it especially about Holly Darling. They whisper it when they pass her in the halls at work; they murmur it when they see her at galas and fundraisers. Everyone wants to know her secret. Everyone wants to be photographed with her. But Holly's almost never in the glossies if she can help it, and she turns down most of the invitations she receives. Those people didn't know her before; they'd never understand who she really is now.
So when people ask, Holly simply tells them it's in her genes. And it's true. Her grandmother Wendy looked fabulous until the day she died, and Holly's mother, Jane, could pass for someone decades younger. On her trips to London, Holly is always surprised to see how little her mother has changed. A few more lines around her eyes, maybe, another streak of silver in her hair, but overall, the same cool, beautiful Jane.
Of course, Holly's also in the business of looking good. Thousands of women all over the world rely on Darling skin cream. At her shiny headquarters on Fifth Avenue, marketing routinely suggests that she model for the line. What better face for the brand than her own wrinkle-free one? With her sleek blonde hair and Pilates-honed frame, Holly embodies what most of her customers want to be. Plus, there's her famous name, an added allure. But Holly always refuses. She doesn't want the extra publicity.
Or the scrutiny that comes with it. It's bad enough that she's done what she swore she'd never do when she was a child-use the Darling name to get ahead. She hadn't made the choice lightly, but the cosmetics industry is cutthroat, and Holly's not stupid enough to waste such a big advantage. But she draws the line at putting herself out there.
This morning, as she's walking down the hallway to the conference room, a handful of people poke their heads out of cubicles and offices to wish her good luck. Holly nods and smiles, but her focus is on the meeting ahead.
When she reaches the conference room, she takes a deep breath to gather herself, then pushes open the door. A half dozen faces turn to look at her.
"Are we set to go?" she asks, crossing the room to her seat at the head of the table. There's the faintest hesitation to her steps, as if she's dragging one leg. It's the remnant of a car accident she suffered in her twenties, back when she was young and foolish and believed love was enough to protect those she cared about. A naivete that cost her one child and almost another, not to mention a husband. When she's cold, or tired, or stressed like today, the limp is more pronounced.
"Marketing dropped off the mock-ups," Barry says, taking her abruptness in stride. Barry's been with Holly since the beginning. Today he's wearing his lucky blue suit, a pink silk handkerchief peeking out of his breast pocket. On anyone else, it might have been overkill. On Barry, polished to such an extreme that even his bald head shines, it looks good.
The team talks strategy for a few moments. They've done one or two of these deals before, where the Darling name is loaned out for a special product launch-though never one of this magnitude. Today they'll combine their brand with the country's leading cosmetics company to create a highlighter called Pixie Dust. The conference phone rings, and Barry answers it.
"Send them up," he says. Then, to Holly, "They're here."
A low buzz fills the room as the four staffers turn to one another, aligning marketing materials that are already perfectly straightened, doing a last-minute check on water glasses and chairs. Only Barry seems relaxed. His eyes roam the stark white conference room, the sole hint of color coming from the bouquets of pink peonies dusted with golden glitter that are arranged in the center of the table. He grins widely, teeth gleaming.
"We're ready for this," he says. "We've got this, people."
A few minutes later Holly, Barry, and the rest of the team stand as Holly's assistant ushers in a woman and two men. The woman reaches out to shake Barry's hand, then leans in to hug Holly, who proffers her own hand instead.
"Lauren," Holly says smoothly, covering any awkwardness. "So nice to see you again."
"It's wonderful to see you too, Holly. You look amazing, as always. How's Jack?"
"He's great, thanks. Still living for lacrosse. His sophomore year is flying by."
"He must be itching to get his driver's license," Lauren Lander says. "I'm telling you, hold him off as long as you can. Once they start driving, you lose all control. Teenagers behind the wheel are an accident waiting to happen."
"I can imagine," Holly says with a tight smile. She can tell when realization hits Lauren; she glances involuntarily at Holly's leg, a horrified expression crossing her face.
"And your two?" Barry says, stepping in to do damage control before Lauren can make it worse. "I heard your son made the golf team at Eckerd. You must be so proud."
"We wish he was closer, but at least we have a warm place to visit," Lauren says, clearly grateful for the change in topic. "Ashley's already planning on heading there for spring break."
She turns to Holly. "We should introduce Jack and Ashley sometime. It would be so thrilling for her to meet a Darling."
"That would be great," Holly says. Her eyes meet Barry's.
"She'd be so excited," Lauren continues, letting out a very unprofessional giggle. "She's fascinated by your family. Peter Pan was her hero for years. Though it's always a shame when you realize your literary crushes aren't real, isn't it?"
Holly's lips thin. "Tragic."
There's no chance in hell she'll make that introduction. She's worked too hard, for too long, to keep Jack safe to blithely put him in the path of a party girl like Lauren's daughter.
Holly moves to the table and Lauren follows, still chatting. A folder filled with mock-ups of Pixie Dust ad campaigns rests at each place. Each folder is topped by a tiny pink glass bottle of the powder that glitters in the light. One bottle is slightly off-center, and Holly frowns until the marketing director hurriedly adjusts it.
"Adorable!" Lauren says. "This is going to fly off the shelves."
Barry gives Holly a triumphant look, but she's not ready to celebrate quite yet. She taps a finger against her folder, and Barry gets the hint. "Let's take a look at the terms," he says, opening his up.
"Oh, but before we get into that, I want to see," says Lauren. She cracks open the glass bottle, sniffs. "Smells like . . . lemon. No, sarsaparilla. No, that's not it. But it's . . . something effervescent. Am I right?"
Holly's staff freezes. Holly's known for her strict adherence to the agenda, and she's been known to explode when someone goes off schedule. Even Barry's giving her the side-eye, but Holly surprises them all.
"Think of it as . . . the scent of springtime," she says, shrugging almost imperceptibly toward Barry. For the amount of money on the line, she can afford to play nice.
"I like that. How does it work?" Lauren asks, tapping a tiny bit into her hand.
Holly nods at the marketing director, who cues the video. A wide shot pans to a beautiful young girl by the banks of a frozen lake. Ice covers the ground. A glass bottle floats through the night sky. The girl catches the bottle, opens it, and blows the contents into the air. As the golden powder swirls above her, her face brightens, as if lit from within by stars. She turns to the camera, radiant.
"All you need is faith, trust, and a little Pixie Dust," a man's voice intones. The screen fades to black.
"Oooh," Lauren breathes. She tilts her head up, blows the dust in her palm into the air, closes her eyes as it settles on her face. "It feels . . . tingly." She turns to the man next to her. "How does it look?"
The man inspects her face as if he's looking at a spreadsheet. The powder has disappeared, but there's a slight sheen to Lauren's skin, a radiance that wasn't there before. Her skin looks taut and even. "It's subtle, but there's a definite glow. It's quite pretty. More to the point, it looks completely natural. Honestly, it's like nothing we've seen out there."
"Exactly." Barry grins. "And you won't find anything else like it, either."
"How does it work?"
"We use a proprietary blend of light-refracting pigments, combined with the best masking and camouflage agents in existence."
"And it's nontoxic?"
"Of course," Barry says. "We at Darling Skin Care have been the leaders in that area for quite some time."
He points to the deputy marketing director, who produces a hand mirror emblazoned with a large D. Barry passes the mirror to Lauren, who stares into it.
"Wow," she says. "Your guys are really, really good."
"Thank you," says Holly. She's particularly practiced at keeping the edge from her voice on this one, but Lauren must catch a hint, because she stops looking in the mirror and glances over.
"Sorry," she says, and has the grace to blush. "It's hard to remember you're a scientist on top of everything else."
"It's quite all right," Holly says, although it's not. This is one of the reasons she decided early on to partner with Barry-strictly in the business sense, after those first few nights-since even in this day and age there are some people who can't seem to believe that a woman who looks like she does could also be a real, hands-on scientist. But Pixie Dust is every bit Holly's baby, in more ways than one.
"Well," says Barry. "If you'll look in the folders in front of you, you'll find a standard-"
There's a knock on the door, and Holly's assistant pokes her head in. "Dr. Darling, I am so sorry to interrupt, but I need you for a minute."
Holly makes an effort not to scowl. She has a habit of running through assistants, and this one is so new Holly's struggling to remember her name. "Can it wait?"
The assistant shakes her head. "I'm afraid not."
"Excuse me a moment, everyone," Holly says. "I'll be right back." She pushes her chair out, stalks around the table. She runs through the list of what it could possibly be, stops short when she gets to the most likely. Jack. There's one thing her assistant would interrupt her for right now, and that's her son. His is the only call she'll take no matter what she's doing. But he knows what a big day today is for the company. He wouldn't bother her unless it was an emergency. Her pulse pounds in her ears, and she hurries outside.
"What is it?" she demands. Her voice is brusquer than she'd intended, and the girl flinches.
"I'm sorry, but the caller said it was urgent."
Barry has left the conference room too and come up behind her. His face is so worried it's clear he's had the same thought as Holly.
"Is Jack okay?" he asks, putting a hand on Holly's arm.
"It's not Jack," the girl says, and relief rushes through Holly. She inhales deeply, aware for the first time that she'd been holding her breath.
"Then why the hell did you interrupt us?" says Barry. "If it's not about Jack, whatever it is can wait."
"It's not Jack," the girl repeats. "It's about your daughter."
"Her daughter? Holly doesn't have a daughter. She has Jack. Everybody knows that," Barry says. He glares at the girl, who looks as if she'd like nothing better than to flee. "Come on, Holly. We need to get back in there."
But Holly's not moving. Her limbs have grown cold. She feels sick and shaky, as if she might faint. Barry takes one look at her and wraps an arm around her for support.
"Holly?" he says. "What is it?"
For once, Holly's iron self-control deserts her. Because the truth is, she does have a daughter, a secret clutched so tightly to her heart that no one here, not even Barry, knows about her.
"What did they say?" Holly manages to ask.
"Holly?" Barry's looking at her, his eyebrows raised in disbelief even as he holds her up, but she can't answer him right now.
The girl shakes her head. "Just that you should call right away. They left the number."
Holly doesn't need to look at the slip of paper the girl is holding. After ten years of calling that number, she knows it by heart.
"Then get them on the phone," Barry barks. He may not know what's going on, but the good thing about Barry is he's always on Holly's side. "We'll take it in there." He points to an unused office a few doors down from the conference room and guides Holly into it.
Once there, he paces around the small space, his large form making it feel even tinier. "I don't understand, Holly. How could you not tell me you had a daughter? I mean, Jesus, we're like family."
"I'm sorry," Holly says wearily. She's been waiting for this call for over a decade, and now that the initial shock has passed, she's exhausted. She wonders if all her preparation will be enough. But there's nothing she can do now. She takes out her own phone and tries the number. It clicks straight to voicemail, so she hangs up.
"It's just . . . I found out I was pregnant after the crash. The pregnancy was a struggle the whole way." The truth. But not all of it.
"But how could you not tell me? Why haven't you ever talked about her? For Christ's sake, what's her name?"
"Eden. Eden Estelle. Her birth was . . . complicated," Holly says. She hits redial. Still nothing. "And then, a few years after, she had an accident. She and Jack had been playing. They climbed a tree and she fell . . . The doctors didn't think she would survive. She's been on life support ever since." Also true, in its own way.
"Oh, Jesus, Holly," Barry says again, but his tone has softened. "I wish you would have let me help."
"I didn't talk about it because I couldn't bear to go through it again." And that is true, completely. Losing Robert, and Jack's twin, Isaac, and almost Jack . . . if Eden had died that day, she's not sure she would have recovered. Even now, with all the years she's had to prepare, all the time she's spent already mourning her daughter, there's a deep well of sadness opening at her core. If she's not careful, she'll fall back in. "Losing Eden has never been a matter of if, just when. Being here, at work, helped me forget at least part of the time."