Three sisters arrive in San Francisco after their mother dies with dreams of making a new life for themselves. Honora, the eldest, quickly falls in love with the suave and devastatingly handsome Curt Ivory, an employee at the engineering firm of the girls’ wealthy uncle, Gideon Talbott. When Gideon hears of the twosome’s romance, he fires Curt, and the young couple must flee down the Californian coast. Desperate to support himself and Honora, Curt starts his own firm, which quickly gains prominence and becomes Gideon’s biggest business rival. Meanwhile, Crystal, the beautiful but manipulative middle sister, and the spunky and clever younger daughterJocelyn are left with Gideon, and Crystal agrees to be Gideon’s wife out of greed rather than love. Jocelyn is horrified by Crystal’s choice and runs away to Los Angeles to live with Honora and Curt. In L.A., Crystal flourishes, graduating from a prestigious college and working as an engineer at Curt’s firm. Despite her talent in the workplace, she gives up her job to marry the charming but reserved Malcolm Peck, a decision that leads her to make choices she will later regret until the day she dies. Through it all, the three sisters remain connected by an unbreakable bond—one that is tested again and again by acts of betrayal and deceit, and twists of fate that shake them to their very core.
A steamy saga that takes readers from engineering sites in the most remote corners of the globe, to the posh neighborhoods of Hollywood, and finally to a dramatic conclusion on the floor of the Senate, Too Much Too Soon is the ultimate exploration of love and the relationships that define us all.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||1 MB|
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Read an Excerpt
The swarthy man had positioned himself three feet or so to their left. He looked utterly commonplace. So why should her attention be drawn to him? Because, she realized, surrounding him was an aura of wildness that set him apart from the rest of the journalists. His muscles were flexed tautly, moisture gleamed on his Levantine flesh. The pupils of his eyes were wary pinpoints fixed on Alexander.
She gripped her son’s arm, feeling the lean muscles, wanting to draw him away from the feral gaze, yet unable to speak.
Did I have time to warn him?
This fine point would haunt her the rest of her life.
She saw the man’s hand reach under the Dacron jacket. A movement swift, yet also incredibly predictable. And she was not surprised at the gun, a smallish pistol, the familiar accoutrement of countless television shows. So much for all the metal detectors and security, she thought.
He wants to kill Alexander . . . .
Later, later she would wonder why, if her thoughts drifted so leisurely, she didn’t have time to scream a warning.
A body hurled between the gun and Alexander, moving so swiftly that in the blur she didn’t realize immediately that it was Curt. Simultaneously there was a sound like a twig cracking, Curt’s mouth opened, he swayed from side to side and back and forth. Hands reached out to break his fall.
The frenzied crowd trapped the Capitol police near the doorway, and had the assailant intended to escape he would have had a good chance in the confusion. Instead, his feet planted apart, he raised his left hand to steady his right wrist as he aimed again.
The second shot cracked just before the screaming filled the universe.
“A-a-l-e-e-x-a-a-n-d-e-e-e-r . . . .”
The Sylvander Sisters
The wind can be sharp in San Francisco. On this afternoon in early March of 1949 the prevailing westerly had swept the air so that in Pacific Heights, where turn-of-the-century nabobs had raised their architectural fantasies, the spectacular view of the city was razor-sharp. The undiluted sunlight dramatically shaded the plunging hills, the great swags of Golden Gate Bridge gleamed like molten strands of caramelized sugar, skipping little whitecaps intensified the flag blue of San Francisco Bay—in this clarity one felt capable of reaching across the immense bay to touch mountainous Berkeley.
Two young girls climbed the steep grade of Clay Street. They wore identical heavy, shabby navy coats that had a foreign cut and polished brown oxfords that were too sturdy to find favor locally. The hats that they clutched against the wind, however, had an inexpensive smartness that was uniquely American.
Honora and Crystal Sylvander were sisters and English.
Crystal, who wore the creamy felt pillbox, possessed an astonishing amalgam of Saxon attributes. Blond hair, bright as polished brass, framed delicate features. Her peerless white complexion was enlivened by dimpled cheeks that seemed rouged but were not. The clear blue irises of her eyes were ringed with a darker cobalt. Crystal’s one flaw, if you could call it that, was a lack of height; however, the clumsy coat couldn’t hide the voluptuous curves of her diminutive body.
Honora, the elder sister, wearing the russet velvet hat with the turned-down brim, lacked her sister’s blatantly provocative beauty, yet her charms grew on you. Her glossy black pageboy was wind ruffled, her dark eyes large and memorable. Tall, with the long, fragile Sylvander bone structure, she moved with a fine, unconscious grace.
Reaching the crest of the hill, they could see twin lines of large cars edged into the curb around a red sandstone Victorian mansion that crouched between its round Norman towers.
Honora halted, her upper lip rising in dismay. “Do you suppose that’s Uncle Gideon’s house?” she asked in her soft, well-bred English accent.
“We’re close to his address,” Crystal replied airily.
“But he has other visitors.”
“Did you expect we’d be the only ones? Uncle Gideon’s only the top engineer in San Francisco!”
“So many people . . .” Honora’s voice faltered. “We can’t just barge in.”
Crystal set her pretty chin firmly. At seventeen, younger by almost an exact calendar year than Honora, she had maneuvered her sister into making this condolence call on their wealthy, as yet unknown American uncle by marriage. “You’re the end, Honora, the living end!” she said. “Our aunt has just died, and you let a few motorcars frighten you off.”
“This isn’t the right way for us to get to know Uncle Gideon.” Honora heard her own pleading tone. A gust of wind tugged at the wide brim of her hat and she reached for it. She was overly conscious that despite the new hat, bought in Macy’s basement with the dollar and a half Crystal had wheedled from their father, money that the family could ill afford, she did not look American. What’s so wrong with that? she asked herself. The English have always been passionately if offhandedly proud of their origins, and Honora, whose patriotism had been further honed by wartime hardships, was not a girl who changed her loyalties easily. These past two months, though, her natural shyness had been increased by Crystal’s unceasing endeavors to make the two of them “fit in with everyone else here.”
Crystal was saying, “We’ve been in San Francisco since Christmas and we haven’t met him yet.”
“This is the perfect opportunity to introduce ourselves.”
“I’m not sure that American girls make visits alone.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Honora, stop talking absolute rot! You know as well as I do they’re much less stiff here. And we’re doing the decent thing.”
“Uncle Gideon’s never shown the least interest in us.”
Crystal’s pretty, penciled brows drew together sharply at this truth. Aunt Matilda was their blood kin. Birthdays and Christmas she had dispatched practical mufflers and jumpers to her motherless nieces. The enclosed card invariably said, With love from Uncle Gideon and Aunt Matilda, but they knew his name was included as form.
Gideon’s first correspondence had arrived last November, a reply to Langley Sylvander’s painfully composed request for a loan to pay his daughters’ tuition.
Re your request of September 1, I consider it morally wrong to either borrow or lend. However, I can offer you aid if you move to San Francisco.
Even though you have no engineering background, I can guarantee that Talbott’s will take you on and train you as a specifications writer. In this country your expenses will be more sensible as we have an excellent free educational system for the two younger girls. Your oldest, Matilda informs me, is eighteen. I consider it my duty to see that she gets working papers. She should have no difficulty locating some sort of a job. Matilda, who is in ill health, sends her best.
“Then it’s time he does pay attention,” Crystal snapped. “With Aunt Matilda gone, he’s our only family.”
“But what if, well, if our coming reflects badly on Daddy?” Honora murmured.
Another burst of wind made Crystal squash her new hat to her head. “I’m being blown to bits,” she said. “And since you’re so worried about Daddy’s job, he’s the one who told us to come.”
“You know he doesn’t mean what he says when he has . . . one of his headaches.”
“Oh, do whatever you want. After tramping up and down hills for hours, I’m not going home.”
Honora stood for a moment of worried indecision, then hurried after her younger sister, who was clipping smartly toward the large, ugly house.
The waiting chauffeurs sheltered in the porte cochere turned admiring red faces to watch the girls ascend four shallow marble steps. Crystal pressed the bell. After a long minute, the black-sprayed wreath bounced dryly against Honduran mahogany and the front door opened. An elderly Filipino peered at them with an unsmiling, unblinking gaze.
With a spontaneous movement Honora and Crystal clasped hands. Faced with any hostility, they rose as if in a helium balloon above minor jealousies and sibling squabbles.
“Yes?” the servant asked coldly.
Each family has its assigned ritual roles, and Honora, as the oldest daughter, had become surrogate for her dead mother, tacitly being assigned the more onerous responsibilities of the impecunious Sylvanders. “The Misses Sylvander to see Mr. Talbott,” she replied with a slight tremor.
The unpleasant scrutiny lasted another few seconds, then the Filipino said, “Please come in.”
Leaving them by the door, he limped arthritically toward the hum of a gathering in the rear of the house. Voices rose briefly then were muted as an unseen door opened and closed.
After the roiling, windswept brilliance of the afternoon, the gloom and stillness in the house seemed eerie, and the girls stood mute and immobilized. They had never entered a private house this large. Crystal peered around, familiarizing herself with the stamping grounds of the wealthy. Honora clasped her shaking hands. The entry, with its opulent paneling and grandiose, three-story stairwell from which hung a massive ormolu chandelier, had been designed for this exact purpose, to unnerve visitors.
The servant returned, “Mr. Talbott will see you,” he said. He took their coats, folding them over his arm in a purposeful manner to show the long, embarrassing frays in the worn blue rayon lining before leading them into the interior of one of the turrets. The room’s circular shape, pierced metalwork and the enormous fringed hassock placed in the center gave it the look of a Turkish alcove.
Crystal went directly to the brass mirror, standing on tiptoe to adjust her hat and smooth her yellow hair. Almost immediately, the sound of heavy footsteps rang on the parquet.
The Sylvanders’ photographic portrait of their American relations, taken many years before, showed that Gideon Talbott’s sternly aggressive jaw was balanced by a full head of dark hair. Judging from his thick neck and burly shoulders, the girls had deduced him to be tall. Seeing him in the flesh, standing on his stumpy legs, they realized that the picture had misled them. He was under 5′5″. His youthful thatch had deserted him and the last few faithful strands had been combed across his flattish head to meet his virile, bushy brown sideburns.
Gideon’s broad features were knotted into an expression of stern righteousness that added to his aura of masculine command. The grand Napoleon, thought Honora.
Closing the door with a sharp bang, Gideon moved briskly to the Moorish fireplace, where he continued his examination of his late wife’s nieces.
“Good afternoon, Uncle Gideon,” Honora murmured, flushing.
“I’m surprised your father’s not with you.” His voice had a peculiar grittiness, distinctive and compelling.
“D-Daddy’s resting . . .” Honora’s soft little stammer trapped her tongue. “He’s ill . . . .”
“Sylvander was at work yesterday,” retorted Gideon. “And which one are you?”
“I’m—” Honora started.
Gideon cut in. “Besides, aren’t there three of you?”
“Yes, Joss—Joscelyn—is only n-nine, nearly ten. We didn’t bring her along. Uncle Gideon, I’m Honora, and this is Crystal. We came to tell you how sorry we are about Aunt M-Matilda . . .” Honora floundered on. “We never met her, but she was always most awfully kind to us.”
“Your aunt was in poor health for many years. For the last year and a half she was bedridden and in constant pain.”
Honora swallowed miserably.
Crystal took a step toward her sister. Her lashes had descended over the angry blue glint in her eyes, yet her voice was rich with sympathy as she said, “It must have been a terrible time for her, Uncle Gideon—and for you, too.”
Gideon’s gaze lingered a moment on the lovely downcast face with its windwhipped, crimson cheeks. “I have other callers,” he said, assuming a kindlier tone. “Come on in and have some coffee with us.”