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Chapter OneO Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night, In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed Of crimson Joy,
And his dark secret love Does thy life destroy.
Saturday, September 25, 1999 - William Blake
"The Sick Rose"
The mansion and grounds of Groveland were awash with lights, roses and people, most of them in appropriate attire of tuxedos and evening gowns, though Sarah had seen some of the younger set in outrageous jeweled jeans. But then, from a generation that thought tattoos, branding and body piercing were perfectly de rigueur, what was one to expect? At least they had all come with generous donations for the Shelter for Abused Women, which would profit from this charity event.
People seemed to be everywhere, even about the house, though that was a risk the seventy-five-year-old Sarah Denbigh was willing to take to help a good cause. Her husband Palmer might be turning over in his grave, but she really couldn't abide police officers or security people lurking about - though an off-duty officer did control the traffic out on River Road. At least it was a great help to have Kate about, not only to keep the massive rose beds in late bloom, but to help tonight. Sarah had given up asking her own two children to set foot here, since they were furious she insisted on supporting so many charities with "their" money. The "Denbigh heritage," as Palmer, Jr. so snidely put it.
"Oh, Kate, there you are!" Sarah called to her rosarian, who had become her dear friend, too. A tall, willowy blond with a darling page-boy haircut that softened a classic face of wide-set, smoky blue eyes, elegant nose, and full mouth, Kate was the very best "refugee" Sarah had ever taken in. Imagine her being held responsible for something her husband had done. He'd absconded with a fortune and had left Kate to shoulder the blame. It had shaken Kate deeply but hadn't broken her, Sarah thought with deep pride and affection.
The thirty-six-year-old woman looked stunning in the only dressy gown she hadn't sold to consignment shops, one in simple black satin with a deep square neckline and long sleeves, though she refused to wear the pearls Sarah had offered to lend her tonight. Despite Kate's dire financial straits, Sarah knew her friend detested anything that smacked of charity. A modest person, perhaps Kate would never grasp the priceless gift of companionship she had given an old woman deeply disappointed in her own daughter.
"The silent auction for the bouquets and rosebushes seems to be going well," Kate reported, out of breath as if she'd just taken a run through the acres of gardens.
Until two years ago, Katherine Browne Marburn and her husband, Mike, had been very much on the social scene here in Toledo - flashy, new fish in the small, old pond, in which the Denbighs and others had swum circumspectly for years. Michael Marburn, with his business acumen and Irish good looks, had been a prominent broker and investor of other people's money. A widower with one daughter, Mike had brought his second wife, Kate, into his burgeoning business as a sort of silent partner, mostly because she was hardly silent. Kate had many prominent contacts from her small business designing flower gardens.
Kate and Mike's companies merged like a David and Goliath into the now-infamous Marburn Securities, though Kate, who knew next to nothing about brokerage or investments, spent most of her time mothering her stepdaughter, Erin, breeding roses and entertaining for Mike. Until everything exploded in her face.
Before Mike could be arrested for illegally selling millions of dollars in promissory notes to investors, he was evidently tipped off. About to be charged with fraud, by federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission, for what amounted to swindling, he disappeared with millions of dollars, leaving his wife to take the brunt of public outrage. He'd also left a suicide note, but a body was never found, and Kate had testified she could not believe Mike would kill himself. After a year, she'd divorced him in absentia for desertion.
"I'd love for Erin to see the way we've decorated tonight," Kate was saying. Erin was a freshman at Ohio University in the southern part of the state; she'd only been gone a little over a month, and both Kate and Sarah missed her greatly. "You realize," Kate continued, "not only the rose swags and arrangements, but the Shaker rocker and set of oval boxes are drawing fabulous bids."
"Mmm, well, you know what authentic Shaker furniture and memorabilia are going for these days," Sarah said, patting Kate's arm. "Fortunately, Palmer and I got into collecting before prices went sky-high. We started about the same time the Rockefellers collected Shaker, but long before several other wealthy Americans began buying up a lot of it, cornering the market so items are getting to be like rare gems - Oh, dear, what's going on over there?"
Kate spun around to glance in the same direction. "It looks as if someone's fallen or jumped in the fountain with the floating petals," she observed. Her eyes were much sharper than Sarah's, even with these new glasses.
"Probably someone," Kate went on, "with so much champagne in him he thought he could walk on water. I'll see to it and call Security if I need to."
"That's all right, dear. I know you don't like to get in the midst of brouha has anymore, or rely on the police, so -"
"No, Sarah, it's all right," Kate insisted, and hurried toward the melee, rolling up her long sleeves as she went, as if she were going to spray some sort of garden pest.
Kate had become what Sarah's own daughter Varina refused to be. Varina as ringleader with her younger brother Palmer in tow thought the Denbigh fortune should be their due before they'd done one thing to earn it, or before Sarah was cold in the grave. And that is why she'd changed her will to make Kate an heir, along with the charities close to Sarah's heart - not that she'd cut her own children off.
Excerpted from Shaker Run by Karen Harper Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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