A short story prequel to the international bestselling novel The Perfume Garden
With The Last Rose of Summer, Kate Lord Brown immerses readers in the rich, sensual world of modern Valencia, Spain, where an abandoned villa holds the key to a woman's past, and her daughter's future.
It's midsummer's night, and the Festival of San Juan illuminates the city streets; the beautiful Valencian coast is ablaze with the light of bonfires crackling on the beaches and fireworks in the sky. Liberty has invited John—the man she refused to marry but never stopped loving—to meet her there. She hopes that together they will discover the truth about the Villa del Valle—but she has a secret. Can John learn to live, and can Liberty learn to let go, before it is too late?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
KATE LORD BROWN grew up in a wild and beautiful part of Devon, England, and was first published while at school. After studying philosophy at Durham University and art history at the Courtauld Institute, she worked as an art consultant, curating collections for palaces and embassies in Europe and the Middle East. Kate won the BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition, Middle East region, in 2014; was a finalist in ITV's The People's Author competition 2009; and has an MA in creative writing. The Perfume Garden was shortlisted for the UK Romantic Novel of the Year 2014. She lives in the Middle East with her family, and is working on her next novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Last Rose of Summer
By Kate Lord Brown
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Kate Lord Brown
All rights reserved.
Valencia, Spain June 2000
"So the agent said to me: 'Señora Temple, are you sure? You don't want this house, believe me. It's cursed—'"
"Cursed?" Diana says.
"Libby, only you would want a place like that."
"I can't wait to see what John thinks of it. Thank you for letting me borrow your husband, Di."
"Honey, you had him first." Her voice crackles on the phone line, a faint transatlantic echo: you had him first.
Liberty glances up as a dove flies above the orange tree garden of La Lonja, a dazzling flurry of white wings rising free into the faded denim sky. The wives of extremely successful men seldom seem happy, she thinks, sliding a gold locket to and fro along the chain around her neck. Di's the exception. She pictures the ever- present smile of the woman John chose to marry thirty years ago. Perhaps she is bustling around their immaculate kitchen with its panoramic views across the bay to Vancouver Island, the phone crooked beneath her jaw as she wipes down the gleaming granite surfaces, the scent of apple pie and cinnamon drifting from the oven. "I just need his advice about Emma. It seemed easier to meet face-to-face."
"Sure. Well, you're welcome to him."
Liberty winces at the sharpness of her tone, like biting a piece of foil in a mouthful of chocolate. "Di? Not trouble in paradise, I hope?" Her hesitation unnerves her. It had always been some consolation over the years to imagine John living a contented life she could never have given him. At least one of them had perfected the art of domestic bliss—even if it wasn't together. "What's going on?" She hears Diana exhale, slow and long.
"Has he not told you?"
Liberty watches the dove loop above, settle on the warm limestone wall of the old silk exchange. It looks down at her, framed in one of the Gothic windows as if it is taking a ringside seat. "Told me what?"
"He probably didn't want to worry you. ..."
Liberty closes her eyes, the light a bright corona of reds and golds. She can't bear it, the empathy she feels oozing through the phone like syrup. She runs her hand through her cropped hair. "Di, for heaven's sake, spit it out."
"It's textbook, really. The kids have left home, we're rattling around in this mausoleum to Modernism." Liberty pictures the house, perched above the bay. It is John's masterpiece, his Fallingwater or Villa Savoye, the statement design his architectural practice was built on—and now, it seems, the ultimate empty nest. "You know, we still get students hanging around outside the gate like groupies—"
"Sorry, sorry." Liberty hears her breath on the line. "You know John, he was always too good to do the whole leather jacket and sports car mid- life thing. No clichés for him, oh no." Liberty frowns. She imagines this is how you feel when you discover your parents fighting. Not that I had parents; how would I know?
"Di. I'm so sorry." Liberty sees him then, walking from the shadows of the ancient hall. She deliberately chose a stone bench tucked away beneath the glossy green orange trees near the star fountain so that she could watch him for a moment.
"Let him tell you about it."
"He's here, okay? I have to go. Love to the kids." Liberty raises her hand and waves. He lifts his arm in greeting, the sleeve of his smart tweed jacket slipping back, sun glinting on silver cufflinks, the heavy metal strap of his watch. He tilts back his Ray-Ban Wayfarers as he walks toward her, tucks them in his hair. She knows when she embraces him that he will smell reassuringly of sandalwood, and peppermint gum. She clicks the mobile closed and tosses it into the supple leather Bottega Veneta bag at her side. "John," she says, tilting her head and smiling.
"Goddamn, Libby." He stops a pace in front of her and shakes his head. "How long's it been?"
"Eight years or so? Emma's twenty-first."
His blue eyes are clear as glacier water, framed now by an etching of wrinkles that deepen as he laughs and hugs her. "Ohh ..." His breath on her neck. "You still smell of roses."
Liberty's eyes close slowly, her body relaxes in his embrace. She feels the lean, broad strength of him, familiar after all this time. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Nor have you." He holds her at arm's length.
"It suits you." John touches the nape of her neck. "You look younger."
"I feel younger," she says, her eyes gleaming.
"Come on, then. I'm dying to know. Why am I here?"
"I need your professional opinion." She glances up at him, a smile playing on her lips. "I tried Norman Foster, but he was busy, so I thought I'd ask you."
"Man, I can't tell you how many times I've heard that over the years." They lean into one another, laughing, as they walk into the old silk exchange. "This place is sensational," John says, looking up to the vaulted ceiling. He reaches out and touches one of the fluted, twisted columns.
"It's a world heritage site, I think. I thought you'd like it." Their footsteps echo around the hall as they walk.
"I miss that," he says, pulling a travel guide from the pocket of his jacket. He flicks through the pages until he finds La Lonja. "I loved the way you used to save surprises for me, those mystery tours you used to take me on." He taps the page with his finger. "Here it is, La Lonja. ..." John reads on, and they linger as they walk through the building. Liberty feels a great peace now that he is here. It will be all right, she thinks. More now than ever, he makes her think of that favorite teacher or professor everyone has. Or the father I never had? she thinks. It's like John has become the age he was meant to be all along. Even when we were in Haight-Ashbury, there was something reassuringly square about him. He was always so ... capable. The one who would find wood for the campfire, or who could talk the cops into leaving us alone.
"How are Diana and the kids?" she says lightly as they step out into the noise and the bustle of the street. She catches the momentary furrowing of his brow.
"They're great. Did I tell you we're going to be grandparents?"
"No, congratulations." Liberty folds her arms, the soft jersey of her Donna Karan suit draping. "Listen, John, I just spoke to Di. What's going on?"
"Goddamn. Why can't you be like other women? You shouldn't get on with my wife—"
"I've stayed friends with all my exes," she says, "and as you are the father of my only child, I've made a special effort with your wife." She stands on the steps, waiting. "John?"
"If we're going to talk about it, I need a drink." He gestures at a tapas bar near the Central Market. Liberty pauses by a beggar huddled on the steps and tucks a roll of pesetas into his battered Coca-Cola cup.
"You always had a soft heart," John says as they walk on.
"It's all a house of cards, John." She gestures at the bustling midday crowds, the elegant natives strolling the streets. "Many of us are only three or four paychecks away from the streets. When my first business went under, I nearly ended up there, and I've never forgotten it." She glances at him. "We're the lucky ones."
* * *
In the sunlight, Liberty pulls a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses from her bag and settles back on the metal café chairs on the pavement. She breathes in the aromas of the market—fruit, saffron, seafood, the rich tang of the coffee a woman is drinking at the table next to them. The girl the woman is with squeezes lemon into her iced water, and Liberty breathes in the sharp scent, her mouthwatering. Through the open doors she can see the people bustling around inside the market, the gleam of red peppers, oranges, in the light spilling from the domed glazed ceiling. The city pulses with life. I love it, she thinks. I love it here. John's phone had rung as they walked across and he was deep in conversation. Some project or other, she guesses, listening to him talking about plans. She watches the huge paella pans hanging above a kitchenware stall outside the market swing in the breeze, like the gunmetal discs of a mobile. Beneath them is a display of pestle and mortars, gleaming yellow in the sunlight. Would Em like one for the new kitchen? she thinks. Too rustic? She pictures it consigned to the back of a cupboard, unwanted, radiant in the darkness. Of course, I can't take souvenirs home, she thinks, no one must know I've been here, yet. Liberty smiles, holding the secret close, and she pulls out her notebook. She begins to jot down the smells she can differentiate, capturing a scent picture of the moment. She flicks through the pages, sees postcards of the Valencian Virgin of the Forsaken, a sprig of orange blossom, the things she has collected that morning. She writes: neroli, duende, passion. Jasmine? Yes ...
"What'll we have?" John tosses down his phone as the waiter comes over.
"How about a coffee and cognac?"
"Good choice." He taps the notebook as the waiter leaves. "Still working?"
"We're the same, you and me." His smile is wistful. "Maybe that's what drove us apart."
Liberty watches a young couple kiss as they stroll past the café. She leans toward John and whispers, "Do you think they made love this morning?"
John watches them. There is no light between their bodies, their arms entwine, their legs fall in perfect step together. "Sure."
"Do you remember when we were like that?"
He smiles, slow. "Of course I do."
"I think you had the best of me, John. You loved me when I was young and carefree, before—"
"Exactly. I think I'm being selfish, bringing you all the way here. I just wanted to see myself through your eyes again, just for a few hours."
He rests his arms on the café table, and leans toward her. "Would it surprise you if I told you I think of you every day?" He takes her hand. "You haven't changed at all. The years have just toughened us up a little, that's all, we've worked hard—"
"I tell you what," Liberty interrupts. "Sometimes I think I could do with a wife like Diana." She purses her lips, daring him.
"Damn it, Libby." He leans away, folds his arms. "What did she say?"
"That you've become a walking cliché."
John jerks his head up. "I have? Hell, she's the one who's kicked me out." He pauses as the waiter eases the drinks onto the table, the cups of coffee rattling in their saucers. "Ha. You should see your face," he says, knocking back his cognac in two gulps.
"Diana?" Liberty feels like someone has thrown a bucket of cold water over her. "But that's ... that's ... Diana?"
"I know. Kind of surprised me too, I can tell you."
Liberty shakes her head as she reaches for her glass. "I can't believe it."
"It's both our faults." John sounds weary. "I stopped seeing her, you know? How old are we now?"
He laughs, softly. "All these years, I've been so focused on work. There was always a new project, a new obsession, and she was just there, holding it all together, raising the kids—"
"The perfect wife."
"Exactly. I took her for granted. I don't blame her for wanting a divorce."
"You can't," Liberty says, her voice rising. "I mean, I—"
"I know you," John says, leaning toward her. "I remember when you left for England, when you were pregnant with Em. You said to me, I can't give you what you need, John, she can. You look at me and Di and you think it's some kind of fairy tale. I wanted to marry you, Liberty—"
"I blame your mother."
Liberty glances at her phone, the red light illuminating an amber vial of pills in the shadows of her handbag, hot with guilt, message after message from Freya ignored, unplayed.
"Have you told her you're meeting me here?"
"I told her I was going to the house in Cornwall."
"Still? Jeez, Libby, when are you going to stop letting Freya control everything?"
"It's not like that. She's worried, that's all."
"While we're talking about it, I guess we are here because of her? It took me a while to figure out why you'd sent me a ticket to Valencia—thank you, by the way. It's because of Freya, isn't it? I remember you telling me that she had been here, during the Civil War, that you were born here."
"I have to know, John." She looks at him. "Even now, she won't tell me the truth. I have to—what's that ghastly phrase?"
"Exactly." Liberty drains her glass. She watches a woman walking from the market with a woven basket of vegetables in her arms, herbs nodding in the breeze. A young girl with gleaming brown curls skips at her side, holding her hand. "It feels like yesterday that Em was that young."
"How is our girl?" John tosses his sunglasses onto the table and stretches out his long legs. He beckons to the waiter and raises two fingers, then points at their empty glasses. "You're both happy in London?"
"She's ..." Liberty pauses. "She's in New York at the moment."
"With Joe? Any sign of them getting married?"
She shakes her head. "Not that he hasn't asked enough times."
"See?" John taps his index finger on the table. "Freya again. You're like some lost tribe of Amazonian women, you Temples. No man is good enough for you."
"Shut up." Liberty laughs and kicks him under the table. "Emma's ... fine."
"But not wonderful?"
"She won't talk about it. And she's desperately trying to protect me from everything that's going on with the company."
"I seem to see Liberty Temple perfumes everywhere." John reaches up and takes the glasses from the waiter, passing one to Liberty. "Gracias."
"Joe and Delilah—"
"She's that sharp kid they were at college with?"
Liberty nods. "They're trying to fix up a deal with a US company to buy us out next year."
John frowns. "And what do you think of all this?"
"You know me," she says, laughing. "If it had been left to me, I'd still be making perfume at the kitchen table in Chelsea." Her gaze is bright, focused as she looks at him. "I brought Joe and Delilah on board because I needed them. They've grown the company into an international brand."
"She'll stay on as the creative force. She's a natural perfumer, far better than I ever was. We're working together on a new fragrance inspired by Spain. She has some marvelous ideas."
"Don't sell yourself short. Your perfumes are works of art." He places his fingertips together in an arch and rests his lips against them. "Look, if you want my advice, don't sell your name. I've seen grown men fight for years to get the first companies they set up back—"
"But it wasn't my first—"
"Hear me out. It's like selling your identity. Do you really want that, Libby?"
Does it really matter? she thinks. Liberty looks down at her hands as she cups her coffee. She strokes away some of the foam and sucks her finger. "It's about legacy, John. I want to leave something behind, for Emma."
"And is it what she wants? To be the pet creative of some huge corporation?"
"I ... we haven't really talked about the future." Liberty pauses. "I spoke to her yesterday, and she'd just been researching Gerda Taro at the International Center of Photography—"
"A German war photographer. Incredible woman. Em's brilliant at thinking around a subject. You say 'Spain' to most people and they think holidays, bullfights, flamenco. Emma's really digging deep, looking at Spanish history and culture. She was describing some of the photographs to me, pictures Taro took here in Valencia—"
"Does Em know you're here?"
Liberty shakes her head. "It was a coincidence."
"No," John says. "You two have always had the most incredible connection." His long, tanned fingers circle beside his head. "I bet she's sensed what you're up to."
"Maybe. It was the first time in ages she sounded really fired up, like she had her passion back. She's an artist, like you. Lately she's seemed half herself." Liberty looks at him. "You know she's moved in with me?"
"Just after New Year. I think it would be better if she was with Joe."
"But their place is still being renovated isn't it?"
Liberty nods. "I love the plans you did for the interior for them."
"Least I could do. Not exactly a wedding present, not yet." John presses his lips together. "I haven't really been that good at birthday and Christmas gifts over the years, have I? I was flattered when Em asked for my help."
"Talking of which, that's why you're here." Liberty touches the locket around her neck, rubs the warm gold oval between her thumb and forefinger. "Is the hotel okay?"
"It's beautiful. My room overlooks the cathedral."
"So does mine." The implication of this glistens, enticingly, like a smooth pebble in a stream. He takes Liberty's hand.
"So? Come on. I wondered when you'd explain what all this is about." He tilts his head, waiting.
Liberty reaches into her bag and swings an old iron key on her fingertip. "I'm buying a house."
"I thought maybe you wanted to build a new store here, but that's great!" John's eyes widen in surprise. "Where is it?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen it yet."
"Hold on." He leans forward. "You're buying a house you've never seen?"
Excerpted from The Last Rose of Summer by Kate Lord Brown. Copyright © 2015 Kate Lord Brown. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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