Authors: Elizabeth Adler
LILY MOLYNEUX—She blazed a trail of wanton destruction, denying a moment of violent passion that would savage all in her wake….
FINN O’KEEFFE—He rose from stableboy to Wall Street tycoon, propelled by consuming desire and revenge. Lily was his love, his nightmare, forever burning in his thoughts….
DAN O’KEEFFE—He fought his way to Midas-like wealth and political power, winning his secret dream—and losing the brother he adored….
NED SHERIDAN—He was a Broadway star, Lily’s slave, the only one who knew the truth about the secret link that bound Lily and the Sheridans—in blood.
SHANNON KEEFFE—She was an heiress without money, a woman without a past, until she returned to Ireland to discover the truth of her father’s mysterious death, and found a love of her own….
MAUDIE MOLYNEUX—Eccentric, matchmaking Maudie captivated Shannon with her gossipy family history. Swathed in Vionnet gowns and armed with a black belt in karate, Lily’s aged niece was out to catch a killer, exhumed from the past….
Books by Elizabeth Adler
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
FORTUNE IS A WOMAN
LEGACY OF SECRETS
THE SECRET OF THE VILLA MIMOSA
NOW OR NEVER
SOONER OR LATER
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
—Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–55)
Stages in Life’s Way
“For the Irish have not the heart to baptize their children completely, they want to preserve just a little paganism and whereas a child is normally completely immersed, they keep his right arm out of the water so that in afterlife he can grasp a sword and hold a girl in his arm.”
—Søren Aabye Kierkegaard
“Thousands are sailing
Across the Western Ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see
Across the Western Ocean
Their bellies full
And their spirits free
They’ll break the chains of poverty
And they’ll dance”
INCE THIS IS
the story of the past as well as the present I finally have to admit to being an “old woman.” Though if any of you were to call me “old Maudie Molyneux” I’d probably set the dogs on you—the dalmatians, stuffed behind me in this big old chair like two spotted oversize cushions.
Let’s get this subject of age out of the way so that we don’t have to consider it again. I never think of myself as “old,” but I’ve been lying about my age for so long I can’t really remember how old I am anymore, though Faithless Brigid in the kitchen refuses to let me forget. “How could you tell Georgie Putnam you were only seventy?” she demanded just the other day, “when he knows he’s ten years younger than yourself?”
“It’s a woman’s privilege,” I told her haughtily, though I confess to a blush of shame.
Now, Faithless Brigid is by way of being my good friend. We were born more or less around the same time, and when she was young she came to work at the Big House, and she’s been with me ever since. You want to know why she’s called “Faithless” Brigid? It was the name the villagers gave to her in her younger days. She was a handsome girl, big and buxom, and she flitted from man to man, one
after another, and married nobody. I always tell her I suspect it was because she was a bit of a tart.
“Will ye be shuttin’ yer mouth, madam,” she shouts at me when I tease her with this. “You’ll have the world believin’ yer slander. I was niver a tart, as you call it. More like the other way around, from what I recall.” And she may have a point there.
As a girl, I could never have been called beautiful; even pretty would have been optimistic. I was like my mother, Ciel Molyneux, small, skinny, and redheaded, with a face like a mischievous cat and a laugh my pa always complained was too loud. My freckles were the bane of my life. Except when I was twenty and I met Archie, and he used to count ’em. Oh, and that can be a dangerous game, let me tell you. Or maybe I shouldn’t. Mammie always said I should learn the art of discretion, as well as to know when to stop talking, but I’ve never managed either and I’m not about to change my ways now.
What do I look like now, you may ask? In truth, not that much different. Fragile, bony, piercing blue eyes, and red curls that are dyed and maybe a bit too girlish, but that’s the way I like it. I always wear my favorite broad-brimmed black “Jack Yeats” felt hat crammed on top, and since I’m horse-mad like most of the Irish, I’m usually wearing fawn jodhpurs, circa 1930, the sort that bag at the thighs, with a “hunting pink” jacket, faded it’s true and fraying at the seams, but if I have to be old, then I’m damned well going to be comfortable with it. These boots, now, fit like gloves and are still exquisite. They were made by the most famous bootmaker in London. Oh, it was “nothing but the best” for the Molyneuxes in those days. Nothing but the best for years, for centuries.
And we never threw anything away; I’ve got every frock I ever owned, except the real favorites that simply wore out with too much use. In my wardrobe, if you move the orange cat, Clara, who has just had her kittens in there, you’ll find original Chanels from 1930 and Dior’s New Look from 1947. Rummage further and you’ll come across
Schiaparelli, and Mammie’s Poirets and Doucets and Vionnets. There’s Fortuny and Fath and Worth in there, too, and I love to wear them all. We still dress for dinner here. One has to keep up some sort of standards, you know.
It’s the same with this house, Ardnavarna. It’s awash under a sea of possessions covering the past hundred and fifty years, and shabby as it is, it’s still the most enchanting house I’ve ever set foot in.
“You’re prejudiced,” you may say, and you are right, but it’s still beautiful. It’s Irish Georgian, not too big, not too small. The white paint is peeling, sweet-scented summer roses climb wildly all over it as I write, and the lawn outside my window is a tall carpet of daisies surrounded by a riotous battleground of gaudy flowers and flamboyant weeds, though I’m inclined to believe the weeds are winning.
The tall sash windows are flung open to catch the late afternoon sunshine and pungent peat smoke drifts from our chimneys. The front door is a perfect example of the best Georgian, flanked by a pair of tall, narrow windows and topped with a delicately scalloped fanlight, and as usual it stands wide open to welcome friends, which goes some way to explain why Irish country houses are notoriously cold.
Myself, I’ve always thought Ardnavarna was like a jewel, gift-wrapped in green: the lawns, the borders, the shrubs, and the tree-covered hills climbing behind it and swooping protectively around it. And to the right, in a dip between the hills, there’s a glimpse of the sea.
Indoors it’s all faded eau de nile wallpaper and frayed chintz. Nothing has been touched for years, not since Mammie ran out of money in the forties. But we still have the remnants of grandeur and our memories: silver horse-show trophies in need of a polish jostle for space on the sideboard alongside twenties chrome cocktail shakers and Georgian silver ice buckets. Threadbare Persian rugs cover the oak floors and enormous Chinese vases are crammed
with dried hydrangeas and roses, all color faded from them into a delightful pale buff that blends so well with the patina of old wood.
There’s a wide, creaking oak staircase that was a dead giveaway in my reckless youth, when any ideas of hanky-panky could be shattered by one wrong foot on the second step from the top, and the gold brocade curtains are so ancient you are forbidden to draw them in case they crumble to dust in your hands. Peat fires slumber constantly in the ornate iron grates, blackening the marble chimneypieces and adding their pungent aroma to the delicate scent of potpourri and the delicious smell of fresh-baked barmbrack and scones coming from the kitchen, and the everlasting dust. And, as I look, every chair seems to contain a pile of books and about a million old copies of
Horse and Hound
and maybe a cat or two.
But, despite my love for the place, I wasn’t born here. I came into this world on a summer day, half sunshine, half rain, in 1910, not more than a mile away. At the Big House.
My father had already put down the good port I drink of an evening now; he was expecting a boy, you see, and that’s what they always did for boys, put bottles of fine port in the cellar to mature for drinking when the son came of age at twenty-one. Of course, when I came along he just looked at me and shrugged and said to my mother, “Well, if that’s the best we can do, at least we’ll see to it she rides like a man.”
And he did. Other people remember being in their prams, but I remember the stables. The smell of horses was my first memory. And, praise be, I took to them the way other girls took to dolls. I never had any fear. I had my own little Connemara pony, dun-colored and docile, and by the time I was three Papa had forgiven me for not being a boy. I think he was quite proud of his fearless little equestrian daughter.
Now, Pa and Mammie were great travelers and they always took me along, right from the year I was born. Mammie
said she wasn’t going to stay behind and Pa said he wouldn’t dream of leaving her, so off we all went. To Paris, of course, and Deauville for the racing. The casinos at Monte Carlo and Biarritz—Mammie adored a flutter. Back here for the hunting and fishing, and then to London for the social season, Ascot and Goodwood, and sailing at Cowes. Oh, and the parties. They’ll never give such wonderful parties again. Or maybe that’s just youth talking and all parties are good when you are seventeen. Then there was Baden-Baden and the Black Forest, and skiing in Saint Moritz.
Oh, I was a travelin’ child all right, with a governess and a trunkful of toys and a pair of doting parents. At ten I was quite used to taking the boat train from London’s Victoria Station across to Paris. And by fourteen I was quite the little habitue on the Blue Train down to the Riviera. I made the journey so often I could easily have done it by myself, though of course I was never allowed. And all the concierges in the best hotels knew me: Claridges, the Lancaster, the Hôtel de Paris, the Gritti Palace.
To you young things, with your blue jeans and cowboy boots, your colleges and careers, this probably sounds as faraway in time as another planet, but when Mammie and Pa decided I was getting out of hand and sent me to finishing school in Paris, I thought the end of my world had come. Banished from Ardnavarna, I was, just like the notorious Lily. But I’ll tell you about Lily later—“all in good time,” as Mammie used to say when I was impatient. Still, it’s odd how the conversation always gets back to “Wicked” Lily Molyneux, but then, she was the kind of woman you never forgot.
Anyhow, I was banished for a year. And I fought against it, ooh, how I fought! I cried buckets, but to no avail. And when I got there I enjoyed it—though I never let them know it, o’ course. Kept on complainin’ right to the end. Just to keep ’em on tenterhooks.