On the Florida coastline stands Poinciana, the Logan family’s fabulous mansion. Inside its storied walls are the two most prized possessions of patriarch Ross Logan: his invaluable collection of Oriental art and, even more priceless, his new bride, Sharon. When Ross proposed, it seemed Sharon’s dreams had come true and her tragic past was at last behind her. Now she’d be safe and find happiness, a family, and a home as the wife of one of America’s wealthiest and most celebrated oil and banking magnates.
But upon her arrival at the sprawling Palm Beach estate, Sharon can’t ignore the strange undercurrents of hostility emanating from everyone who resides at Poinciana—from Ross’s principal assistant to his reckless and resentful daughter from a previous marriage to his strange and guarded mother, who has isolated herself in a cottage on the grounds. And when Sharon starts asking questions about the Logan family history, even Ross turns from a dynamic and solicitous husband to a dark and silent menace. As secret after secret is revealed, Sharon begins to doubt her sanity—and safety—in this isolated house of strangers.
A New York Times–bestselling author and recipient of the Edgar and Agatha Awards, “Phyllis Whitney is, and always will be, the Grand Master of her craft” (Barbara Michaels).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Phyllis A. Whitney including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the lifetime achievement award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Read an Excerpt
Outside the long windows of the library, a Florida March was mild, almost balmy. Sunset light touched fine book bindings, turning polished mahogany rosy, but I sat well away from the windows, huddled in a wing chair and hidden by the deepest shadow I could find.
Though the door was closed upon sounds beyond, I heard someone calling, "Sharon? Sharon, where are you?" I shut out the summons. On a table nearby, the tape recorder played, and I listened only to the singing voice.
I had run frantically from the turmoil in the rest of the house — that turmoil when family and friends gather to console one another and dine hungrily on whatever fare is provided for body and emotions. At Poinciana any feast was sure to be sumptuous, and I had needed to give few orders. The household had been beautifully run before Ross Logan had ever brought home a new young wife, and it could run smoothly without me.
The voice on the tape sang poignantly of "purple shadows and blue champagne ..." and I steeled myself against the sound. It was that appealing, throaty quality of voice that could only be Ysobel Hollis whispering of heartbreak and loss. Heartbreak — when she had been the happiest woman I had ever known! My mother. The shivering inside me began again as I remembered. Yet it was not Ysobel who had died two days ago.
I had come here as Ross Logan's wife, believing that the very real problems of my life were being solved. I hadn't known then what it meant to be afraid.
Any death in a household such as this one meant an astonishing stir in the presses of the world. What platitudes and banalities had been given out — because the truth was too dangerous to reveal. All the family were on guard now, even against one another. Jarrett Nichols, Ross's powerful right hand, stood behind the story that must be told. None of us were to be interviewed, and the fortress of the house protected everyone in it. Except me.
Within the house, this had not been protection enough. Their eyes accused me. Without words, they were saying, You are to blame for what happened.
The taped voice whispered on, and I heard its husky yearning — I keep a blue rendezvous ... I had endless reasons to find that song disturbing, but I made myself listen, made myself remember every detail.
For the sake of my own sanity, I needed to remember, to retrace, to understand exactly what I was doing here at Poinciana, how I had come to this moment in this room. Death brings its own sense of unreality, and I had three deaths to assimilate. Ysobel and Ian — my mother and father — and now this new and dreadful one.
Everything had begun — such a little while ago! — on that afternoon in Belfast in Northern Ireland. My mother, her beautiful, funny face alight, had been singing to children brought to the concert hall from an orphanage. My father was in the wings as always, since Ysobel was something of his creation, as well as the focus of his life. Hers was the magic and the talent, but his had been the imagination to recognize, and to present her to her audiences as she needed to be presented. That day I had been sitting near the outside end of the third row, with children all around me. I'd been watching the children's bright faces as they listened, entranced, to the singing of Ysobel Hollis. She wasn't giving them the sad songs of loss and pain that her adult audiences doted on. These children had enough of that in their lives, so she brought them gaiety and hope and life — something she could do equally well. And I was listening, though not as thoroughly entranced as the children.
We were completely different, Ysobel and I. She had been born in New Orleans, I in San Francisco. The outward differences, as I'd always accepted, were not in my favor. She was small and pert, and her black hair fluffed in curls around her face. I was tall and my hair was blond and straight like my father's. I usually drew it back in a coil on the nape of my neck, emphasizing the difference. My father used to tell me I was beautiful, that I had "good bones." I laughed at his words, never believing. I'd have liked a saucy, upturned nose like Ysobel's and dark eyes that could flash with light, instead of blue eyes that Ross had told me were like quiet seas. I knew that my seas were never quiet, but I didn't want the world to suspect, and I wore a careful guise that came to suit me like a well-designed gown.
Father adored Ysobel, of course, and he was dramatic enough in his own right. Ian Hollis, Scottish-American, ex-actor. Though sometimes I wasn't so sure it was "ex." He managed Ysobel's fortunes, handled her publicity, built her into the world-famous musical comedy star she became. He was the impresario personified.
I supposed they loved me, when they thought about it, and had time. But it was necessary to leave me in whatever schools were available, from New York to London to Geneva. Never for a long enough time to put down roots and make lasting friends, but enough to give me a background of experience few other children had. Always in a new place there was the whispering behind my back, the eager curiosity because I was the daughter of Ysobel Hollis. Because of this, I was always engaged in a struggle to be me. Until recently, a secret struggle that I never let the world suspect.
When I grew up, I could travel everywhere with them, and that was both exciting and smothering. I didn't mind being useful. Mother said I could dress her faster and more skillfully for her performances than anyone else, and she loved to have me do her hair. Little else was required of me — certainly not to attend many parties with them, or be present at press interviews. I could understand that a growing daughter might draw attention from Ysobel Hollis in an undesirable way. As a reward for not being demanding or too conspicuous, I was allowed to go my own way much of the time. Strangely, for a young woman, my fantasy life had to do with museums.
I loved to wander echoing marble halls, until even the guards came to recognize and smile at me. I could imagine myself the elegant doyenne of a mansion housing some fabulous collection about which I was wholly knowledgeable. The Oriental wings drew me especially, and I developed an affinity for Japanese art and culture. China was too big for me to grasp, but Japan was more compact, for all its complexity, and I began to learn about it. Someday I would visit those islands, even though Ysobel had had no desire to travel to the Far East. On my twentieth birthday, when Father asked me what I wanted most, I told him I would love to own a set of Oriental jade, and he took me to Gump's in San Francisco, where I chose a pendant of heavenly clear green, with a gold dragon coiled about it. There were tiny gold and jade earrings to match, and while my father sighed over the cost, he could give generously on occasion. Ysobel never bothered about money, and she didn't mind. She was never the type for jade.
How foolish and how terribly young I'd been. Perhaps "arrested" was the word! But ready for a terrible awakening.
On that afternoon in Belfast, there was no warning of danger. Ysobel was laughing one moment, singing her heart out, and in the next she was gone in a flash of light and shattering sound.
It was as though the seats around me exploded and I was thrown outward against the wall of the theater. When I opened my eyes the stage was aflame, the wings burning, and there were shouts and screams everywhere. Pain stabbed through my arm, and there seemed to be blood streaming down my face. My brain had given up working properly. There was no way I could reach the stage, and I knew only that I must get as many children as possible out the side door of the hall.
I grabbed and pulled, shouted myself hoarse, and somehow managed to bundle a few of them through the door, starting an exodus, so that others followed. Fright and agony were screaming inside me, yet I went on doggedly, bringing a number of us out to the sidewalk.
I don't know what happened after that. I was told later that I'd collapsed. When I opened my eyes again it was to find that I had been in the hospital for two days. The sister at my bedside hushed and soothed me, refused to answer questions.
Then Ross Logan came. What Ross Logan ordered, people provided. A private room for me, the best of doctors, and Ross himself there at all hours. He had been my parents' great friend for many years and I remembered him from my childhood as an always impressive figure. In London he had heard the shocking news, knew that I was alone, and had come at once by plane. As always, he was possessed of an enormous vitality. Phones around him were never still, and he could talk with equal authority to Washington or Tokyo, London or Bonn.
He sat at my bedside, his athlete's body erect and youthful, because at nearly sixty he still kept himself in top condition. He sounded like the American he was, exuberant most of the time, and always handsome and dynamic — his hair barely touched with gray, an intensity brimming in dark eyes and tightening the corners of his mouth. As I was soon to recognize, he exuded power. I, who had never felt so weak, could begin to learn and trust a little.
It was Ross who told me they were both gone. Ysobel and Ian. They had been killed at once and hadn't suffered, he assured me. I, their daughter, had helped to save a great many children from the fire that had followed the bombing, and was something of a heroine. It was a comfort to me when Ross took over all the dreadful funeral arrangements, requiring nothing of me but agreement. However, the most comforting release he brought me was his own grief. He had loved my parents, he told me, and felt it no shame to weep — so we cried together, and my healing began. I didn't understand until later why he cried, or how angry such tears could be. My own, as well as his.
When I had recovered enough physically, my damaged arm in a sling, he carried me off to his town house in London. His housekeeper, a sensible older woman, took me in charge, and again I need take no action, make no decisions. Ross went away to his business meetings, flew to New York and back again. When he was in London he took me everywhere. To the best plays and restaurants, on a flying visit to friends in Scotland in his own plane. I began to see as never before what a figure of power and importance he represented wherever he went. The press was apt to follow him, and they even took an interest in me, as they would in any woman to whom he paid attention. That I was also Ysobel Hollis's daughter, with a tragedy behind me, whetted their appetite for sensation. Ross handled them skillfully, and escaped them when he could. He seemed to inspire an almost awed respect on every hand, and I began to feel a little giddy in such high-powered company. Giddy, but not very real.
As far as my own affairs went, I was still in a state of shock and unable to plan for myself. I couldn't believe I would never see my parents again, and I was glad for any distraction possible.
My future stretched ahead blank, empty, a question mark. Ysobel and Ian Hollis had been bountiful spenders. I had my mother's few jewels and that was about all. There were astonishing debts. Her income from recordings soon went to pay those off. I had been trained for nothing practical, but must now somehow find myself a job. Perhaps as a model? I was told I might do well enough at modeling. What people called my poise would get me by, with no one ever guessing that it was an outer casing I wore that made me seem cool and confident and remote — with no hint of the disturbing emotions that might be surging underneath. I wanted not to be theatrical, not to be like Ysobel — whom I could never emulate anyway — and not to be like my father, who sometimes played at charades. So who was I?
There weren't any permanent men in my life, only casual friends. I'd learned when I was thirteen not to bring young males around my mother. She couldn't resist captivating them. I didn't blame her, but perhaps I grew a little cynical about men before I was old enough to have one of my own. Later on, I suppose I put men off. They didn't know how to smash through the protective glass that encased me, and I hadn't met the man who could coax me outside. They thought I was cold, when sometimes I felt as though I were burning up in futile anger.
"So you're Ysobel Hollis's daughter?" they'd ask, and we would talk admiringly about her, while I went into hiding and seethed.
My relationship with Ross was something new. I began to relax a little in response to his enormous charm, his skill with a woman, his tenderness. That he was fifty-six to my twenty-five was only reassuring. A younger man might have stirred up my uncertainties, my resentments, while Ross offered strength and dependability, as well as a total concern with me. A concern such as no one else had ever given me.
He had been married twice before. Helen, his first wife, had died. His second, Brett Inness (as she called herself now), he had divorced. An impossible woman, he said. There was one daughter by this second marriage, and he appeared to love her dearly. Yet when he talked about her, I found myself unexpectedly wary. I knew about fathers who loved their daughters, but were too busy to pay them much attention. Without ever having met her, I began to harbor a secret sympathy for Gretchen Logan.
"She's a difficult girl, Sharon," Ross told me. "Unruly. And too sexual too young. At twenty, she's already had an affair or two and seems quite willing to throw herself away on any man who shows an interest in her. Right now, she's running around with a man named Vasily Karl. He's some sort of Balkan fellow — Rumanian, Bulgarian? Maybe a dash of Hungarian or Russian — who is obviously after her money. I'm trying to put a stop to it, but she's not likely to listen."
I could grieve for him about his daughter, even while I instinctively sympathized with her. By way of advice I offered nothing, but I was a good listener, and Ross liked to talk. Especially about his family.
His father, Charles Maynard Logan, had made his own great fortune and had been the founder of Meridian Oil, as well as establishing the Logan banks. He'd known as well how to spend and how to collect. Among other things, he had collected the midwestern beauty who became Ross's mother, and who gained her own fame as Allegra Logan. Allegra had taken to Florida with enthusiasm, perhaps in reaction to Minnesota cold, coming to the island of Palm Beach in the twenties, and setting her mark upon it. It was there she had built her fantasy house, Poinciana, flinging down the challenge to Marjorie Merriweather Post, a lady who had a few fantasies of her own. Ross smiled a bit ruefully as he spoke of his mother.
"She must have driven her architects crazy, stealing from Mizner and anyone else whose houses appealed to her, so that she built a hodgepodge so spectacular that it made its own name and importance, and no one dared to laugh."
I gathered that both his parents were gone now, though he wouldn't talk about their death. Ross had kept Allegra's creation, and Poinciana was clearly his favorite place on earth, though he owned several houses elsewhere. It was to Poinciana that he brought his father's collection of art and antiques, and it was there he chose to make his headquarters for at least part of each year. Let New York and London and Washington come to him.
During those days of our getting acquainted in London, while I convalesced, I began to recognize Ross's growing interest in me, and I could hardly believe in what was happening. For the first time in my life I could fall in love without being fearful of Ysobel. Ross was vitally exciting and virile, and he aroused feelings in me that had never been stirred before. The hidden cynicism I had developed as a protective coating for my emotions was melting away. The inner turmoil was dying.
When he brought me a stunning ring of diamonds and sapphires and put it on my finger, I knew all my problems were over. Ross would rescue me, protect me, love me forever. I needn't ever be adrift and lost again, and I would have someone to love.
As he talked to me about his growing up in Poinciana, I began to glimpse its magnificence in my mind, and the thought of it revived old fancies. I had visited splendid houses often enough with my parents, and I had as well all those museum hours behind me. Ross told me frankly that one of the things that impressed him about me was my background of sophistication and my surprising knowledge of Oriental art. I could accept the latter, but I wasn't sure about that word "sophistication." Disguise was my specialty. Nor was I sure that I could cope with either the legend or reality of Poinciana — though something in me wanted terribly to try.
Excerpted from "Poinciana"
Copyright © 1980 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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