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About the Author
Patricia Macdonald's darkly hypnotic tales have captivated readers across America, as well as in France, where she is a #1 bestselling author. Her previous novels include "Suspicious Origin, Stranger in the House, Not Guilty, " and the Edgar Award-nominated "The Unforgiven." She lives with her husband and daughter in New Jersey, where she is working on her next novel.
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From Cradle to Grave
By Patricia MacDonald
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2009 Patricia Bourgeau
All rights reserved.
Morgan Adair rang the bell at the reception desk of the Captain's House. While she waited for the owner to appear, she walked across the antique-filled parlor to the French doors which led to the side porch. The day was unseasonably mild and the doors were open. She stepped outside, and inhaled the autumn air redolent of burning leaves and the tang of salt spray. Morgan lived and worked in New York City, but she often felt assaulted by city life, and it sometimes seemed to Morgan that she had been born in the wrong era – that she would have been better suited to life in the countryside in the late nineteenth century. This oceanside guest house had a little of that feeling of another time, another era.
A graduate student at Hershman College in Brooklyn, Morgan would be traveling, next week, to the beautiful English Lake District to finish the last of her research for her PhD thesis on the English essayist and feminist Harriet Martineau. Martineau had lived the last years of her life in Ambleside on the shores of Lake Windermere and Morgan planned to spend some time at the Knoll, the Victorian house which the prolific writer had called home. She could hardly wait.
The prospect of the trip was made all the more exciting by the fact that she would be spending much of her time there with Simon Edgerton, a poet who had guest-lectured at Hershman last Spring. During Simon's time at Hershman, Morgan had been assigned to work as his assistant. Their academic relationship became an ever-escalating flirtation. When she told him that she would be coming to England to do her research, he offered to accompany her to the Lake District. Struggling to conceal her delight, Morgan could not accept his offer quickly enough. She was already picturing a Jane Austen-worthy scenario – their old-fashioned courtship consummated in that romantic setting. She was counting the days.
In the meantime, it was undeniably pleasant to be in this seaside town, in this quaint house on an autumn weekend. On the internet, she had found this guest house, one of the few still open in late October, and booked a room. West Briar was one of three towns referred to as the Briars, here on New York's Long Island shoreline. It did not have the same wealth or cachet as its near neighbors, the Hamptons, but the Briars were, nonetheless, a coveted summer haven. Now, the season was over, and West Briar had resumed its sleepy, rural character.
'Hello,' called a voice from inside the house. Morgan came back in off the porch and smiled at the tall woman with a stylishly cut bob, half-glasses and a cardigan draped over her shoulders, who was now behind the antique front desk.
'Hi there,' said Morgan. 'I'm on my way out, but I brought down my card.' She held out the plastic credit card to the innkeeper, who, with her arms full of clean towels, had knocked on the door to Morgan's room earlier to apologetically ask Morgan to stop by the desk with her card for imprinting when she came through the lobby again.
The innkeeper reached for the card, looking sheepish. 'I'm so sorry to put you out, Miss Adair. I should have made an imprint when you arrived this morning. I'm just scattered. All my help has gone back to college and I'm expecting company today – the daughter of an old friend – so I'm a little distracted. How's the room? Are you comfortable?' she asked solicitously.
'Very comfortable. It's charming,' said Morgan. 'You have a lovely place here. Are you open all year?'
'No,' said the woman, shaking her head. 'Actually, this is our last weekend open. My husband and I go down to Sarasota for the winters.'
'That sounds like a good schedule to have,' said Morgan.
'Oh, it is. Although I always miss this place. I'm always glad to get back. Is this your first visit to West Briar?' the woman asked.
'No,' said Morgan. 'But I usually stay at my friend's house. I just thought that they didn't need a houseguest this weekend.'
The innkeeper pointed to the box wrapped in pale blue with a white ribbon which Morgan carried under her arm. 'Ah, I see. Wedding?' she asked.
'Baptism, actually. I'm the godmother,' said Morgan proudly.
'Oh. Well, congratulations. And you look very pretty,' she said in an approving, motherly tone.
Morgan glanced into the silver framed mirror behind the desk. When she drove out from her Brooklyn apartment this morning and checked into the guest house, she was still wearing her running clothes. She had showered and changed in her room. Now, glancing at her reflection she had to admit that she did clean up well. She wore her shiny, chestnut-hued hair in long, loose waves, and she had forgone the tailored jackets and pants she normally wore for work, and chosen a short, swingy dress in a pale shade of olive. The color flattered her hair and complexion and the dress showed off her legs. 'Thanks. It's an important day,' Morgan said.
The innkeeper handed her back her card and smiled. 'A christening. It certainly is. Well, you have a wonderful day,' she said.
The mailbox at the end of the Bolton's driveway was festooned with blue and white balloons tied to the mailbox post with long, curling ribbons. Baby motifs – rattles and carriages and cunning teddy bears – were printed on the balloons, which danced in the autumn breeze. Colorful leaves from the mature trees in the yard joined in the dance, twirling down on to the long front lawn. Claire's gray cat, Dusty, sat on the front step of the brown cedar-shake cottage, alertly watching the leaves fall, poised to spring if any leaf tried to land there. The burnished sunlight threw a pattern of dappled shadows across the lawn. Morgan opened the white gate and started up the stone pathway to the front door. Dusty jumped off the step as she approached and watched from his hiding place in a bed of zinnias beneath the window. As Morgan raised her fist to knock she heard the thin, plaintive sound of a baby's cry.
Although it was the most normal of sounds, the audible evidence of all that was new and hopeful, Morgan immediately felt a knot tighten in her stomach. This was her third visit since the birth, early in September, of Claire and Guy's son, Drew. The first visit she had come bearing gifts, energy to help, and a heart full of happiness. It had been a shock then to see the anxiety in her best friend's eyes. 'I don't know how to take care of him,' Claire had whispered. She looked exhausted, the dark circles under her eyes like sooty smudges on her wan face.
Although clueless about babies, Morgan had peppered Claire with reassurances while she took over every chore she could manage including getting up at night with the baby. The second visit had come weeks later, when Guy, a chef who ran a catering business that serviced all the best parties in the Briars, called her in a panic.
'Claire doesn't bathe. She won't get out of bed,' he said. 'Morgan, maybe you can talk to her. I don't know what to do.' Morgan posted a notice on the door of her shared office at Hershman College, saying that she would not be available for her tutorials, and had rushed out to West Briar. Guy had not been exaggerating. For four days Morgan helped out with the chores, and tried to reassure Claire that everything would be fine. She had gently urged her friend to see a doctor, get some medication for her baby blues.
Now the baby was six weeks old, and the day of his christening had arrived. But the persistent sound of the baby's wails made Morgan uneasy. She could visualize Claire's panic, her agitation. It doesn't necessarily mean anything is wrong, Morgan told herself. Babies cry. She knocked on the door and in a moment it was opened by Guy Bolton. One look at the strain in Guy's face told her that the situation had not improved.
'Morgan,' he said. 'I'm glad you're here. Come on in.'
Morgan followed Guy into the house. It was cozy and charming, a seaside cottage, decorated with warmth and flair and now clearly ready for a party. The dining room table was covered with wine glasses, serving dishes, piles of utensils, plates and napkins. The rich aroma of a pot-au-feu emanated from the kitchen, and there were flowers arranged with autumn leaves, and candles on every surface.
Parties were Guy's business. He was a chef who had trained in France and worked for six years at a highly respected restaurant in Lyon. The master chef there had gifted him with a set of exquisite Sabatier carving knives when he left his service. Once back at home, Guy had many offers to be the head chef at fine restaurants. He decided instead to open and operate a catering business in Briarwood that served the Briars and his business was a great success. Clearly, he had brought all his culinary skills to bear in preparing for his son's baptism.
'Guy, everything looks wonderful,' said Morgan sincerely. 'The food smells fantastic.'
Guy frowned and ran a hand through his dark, wavy hair. 'I think we're ready,' he said. He was a slim, handsome man with broad face, sensuous dark eyes and full lips. Today he wore a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, dark pants and a foulard tie, with a white chef's apron tied around his narrow waist. Eighteen months ago, when Morgan first met him, he had just fallen head over heels in love with Morgan's best friend, Claire. In those days, his joy was catchy and intoxicating.
'Is there anything left to do?' Morgan asked, putting her present on a pile of presents on the sideboard. 'It looks like you've done it all.'
'Maybe you could get through to Claire,' he said grimly.
'How's she doing?' Morgan asked.
'She doesn't want to come.'
'Oh dear,' said Morgan. She reached out and put her fingers lightly on Guy's forearm. He flinched. 'I'm sorry, Guy,' she said. 'I'd hoped ...'
'Yeah, me too,' he said. His dark eyes glistened. He rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes and took a deep breath. 'I don't know what to do.'
'Has she seen her doctor? Did she get some medication?' Morgan asked.
'She doesn't want to leave the house,' Guy said. 'She makes the appointments and then she breaks them.'
'It's hard. I know it. But these blues are not that uncommon, you know, for new mothers. It'll pass.' She said this with some authority. Alarmed by Claire's mental state, she had done some research on the internet about post-partum depression.
'Will it?' he said in a flat tone.
A stove timer dinged in the kitchen. 'Excuse me,' said Guy. 'I have to get that. I'm trying to get everything out and on the table before we leave. So people can come in and just serve themselves. I probably should have arranged to have Drew christened at home. But you know Claire. She wanted to do it at the church,' he said.
Morgan understood. All her life, Claire had retained a childlike faith which Morgan found hard to fathom. Despite their closeness, their many similarities, it was a profound difference between them. Morgan's turbulent, disrupted childhood had made her cynical, to say the least. One of the reasons she had been attracted to Harriet Martineau as the subject of her doctoral thesis was that highly educated woman's rationalistic rejection of religious teachings.
But Claire had stayed with her faith despite the difficult life she and her impoverished single mother had known. When, before Drew was even born, Claire had asked Morgan to be her baby's godmother, Morgan had felt bound by conscience to remind her friend that she was not a churchgoer, and not, perhaps, the best person to entrust with her baby's religious upbringing. Claire had brushed off Morgan's objections. 'I want my baby to have a godmother who will always care for him, or her, if anything happens to me. And that's you.'
Those late days of Claire's pregnancy had been such a happy, optimistic time for Claire and her husband. They had even talked about selling their West Briar cottage and moving to Provence, which they both adored. Now, Morgan's heart ached at the bewilderment in Guy's voice, the misery in his eyes. 'It'll work out fine,' said Morgan. 'Look, we'll get her ready and get her over there. Don't you worry,' she said briskly. 'Leave Claire to me.'
Guy looked at her. Hope and skepticism fluctuated in his gaze.
'Go on. I'll just go tell her that I'm here,' she said firmly. As Guy returned to the kitchen, Morgan went down the hall to Guy and Claire's room, and tapped gently on the door. 'Claire? It's me. Morgan. Can I come in?' Without waiting for an answer, Morgan opened the door.
The smell of unwashed linens and sour milk hung in the stale, still air. Morgan frowned, trying to adjust her eyes to the darkened room. She could hear the baby's cries of misery. She stepped tentatively inside. Her vision began to adjust. Claire, who had worked, before her pregnancy, as an edgy computer graphic artist in Manhattan, was clad in a stained gray T-shirt and underpants. She was sitting up in bed, the bedclothes wadded around her slender hips, absently rocking the wailing baby in her arms.
'Hi honey,' Morgan said gently. 'Do you mind if I let a little light in here?'
Claire shrugged. 'I don't care.'
Morgan walked over to the windows and pushed open the curtains. The pale autumn light crept into the room. Morgan walked over to the bed, and sat down on the edge. Now that the curtains were open, she could see that Claire's dark eyes were bright with tears, and there were tears rolling down her elegant cheekbones, dripping from her small, square jaw. Claire did not bother to wipe them away.
Morgan's heart sank at the sight of her friend's face. 'Oh, Claire,' Morgan said. 'Not any better?'
'It's no use,' said Claire.
'Come on, now,' said Morgan gently, giving Claire's shoulders a brief squeeze. 'It just takes some getting used to.'
Claire shook her head. 'No, you don't know,' she insisted. 'I'm a bad mother. Nothing I do is right. I feed him. I change him. He just keeps on crying.'
'Here, let me hold him,' said Morgan. She reached for the baby, and Claire released him without protest. Morgan pressed the trembling little body gently to her shoulder. The baby continued to cry and hiccup, but the force of his protests diminished.
'Hey, little guy,' she crooned.
'You see,' said Claire. 'He'd rather be with you.'
Morgan frowned. 'Don't be silly. I'm just a novelty.'
Claire closed her eyes and slid back down under the covers. Morgan had known Claire since their first day of junior high school in a small farming community in upstate New York. Morgan, whose father was a diplomat, had been raised in Malaysia. Her parents died in a hotel bombing and Morgan was sent back to live with an aunt and uncle who clearly didn't want her. On Morgan's first day of school, so bewildering and alien after her years abroad, a skinny, acne-covered girl with glasses, who stood a head taller than anyone else in the class, sat down beside her in the lunchroom and asked her if she liked Lord of the Rings. Claire. It was a moment of relief that Morgan would never forget – the revelation of a kindred soul.
They had shared innumerable experiences in the years since then – from the triumphant to the devastating. But even when Claire's mother, her only family, died during her senior year in college, Morgan thought, Claire had not seemed so hopeless.
'Guy's got everything ready,' said Morgan.
'I know. He's been a saint,' said Claire. 'I don't know how he stands it. I'm sure he wishes he'd never met me.'
'How can you even say that?' Morgan asked. 'He adores you.' As she spoke, she could hear the wistful pang in her own voice. When she had told Claire about her flirtation with Simon, Claire had said gently, 'This doesn't seem right to me. I mean, I don't know of a guy who wouldn't have made a move by now.' Morgan had protested that Simon probably didn't want to violate protocol, being a guest lecturer at the college and Morgan still a grad student. She proudly pointed out that they were going to be spending time together in England. Of course her flirtation with Simon would seem tepid compared to the dramatic passions of Claire's life.
Claire and Guy had met when Guy catered Claire's engagement party to another man – Sandy Raymond, a dot-com mogul who got rich from Workability, the internet employment site he founded. Sandy had hired Claire to do the graphics for his site, and he began to woo her soon thereafter, proposing during a vacation in Spain. Their engagement party took place at his summer home in West Briar. It had been a bittersweet occasion for Morgan. She and Claire shared an apartment, and she knew that this night marked the end of an era – their era as room-mates and travelers, sharing exotic adventures and late night ice cream runs, and building castles in the air. Claire was about to begin a very different kind of life as the wife of a dot-com millionaire. The event was glamorous. All the trees were lit with fairy lights, a jazz combo played, and the champagne flowed.
At some point in the evening, Morgan stepped out on to the patio behind Sandy's beautiful house and saw Claire, in her blush pink silk party dress, standing on the stone steps, deep in earnest conversation with a gorgeous man in a food-stained chef's jacket. The very next day, Claire told her that she was afraid it would be a mistake to marry Sandy, and she was going to give him his ring back. It had only taken her one night to realize that she had met the man she truly was meant to marry. Guy's proposal, their wedding and Claire's pregnancy had followed in a happy whirlwind. Morgan made no secret of it – she envied Claire that commitment, that certainty. 'You're the love of his life,' said Morgan. 'You and that baby.'
Excerpted from From Cradle to Grave by Patricia MacDonald. Copyright © 2009 Patricia Bourgeau. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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