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It all began in Costco with Gwyneth Paltrow. I hit Costco about twice a month because one of my dogs has to have prescriptions filled in the pharmacy. Otherwise, I might not be much of a Costco shopper because the warehouse is off my beaten path, and I can wrangle most things I want out of Vons and Trader Joes now that we’ve become a household of one or two.

Fortunately I have never been afflicted with Costco Syndrome. I have never gone into a warehouse planning to spend a hundred bucks and come out with a five thousand dollar hot tub or a monster flat screen. I know people who’ve done that and cut up their membership cards immediately afterwards. (Good thing, too.)

No, I put my consumer blinders on whenever I enter those massive doors and buy the prescriptions and the boring stuff like enough paper towel, TP, and garbage bags to last through a ride on Noah’s Ark; a mega box of Clif Bars for my son who lives on them; and two bottles of my favorite zin, twelve bucks and under, for nights when I’m ready to unwind from writing unbrief briefs and my current novel in progress.

But I admit I have one weakness: I browse the book table after I’ve munched through the samples (and resisted buying of all the preservative laden convenience foods Costco is pushing that particular day). The book table, however, is my Armageddon. Like most word-obsessed people, I have a weakness for books. And I’m a foodie on top of that, so a cookbook is not to be resisted. Not long ago, I staged a personal intervention in which I promised my rational self not to buy another cookbook until I had cooked at least one thing from all the others I’ve been acquiring after visits to Anthropologie. BUT THEN . . . .

That day, “It’s All Good,” Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest cook book sang its siren song to me in all it’s glossy picture laden, healthy food glory. I didn’t buy her first one – maybe because I didn’t find it at Costco dirt cheap – but “It’s All Good” became my extravagance of the day.

I sat up nights reading it along with the other cookbooks languishing in the Give Us Attention Pile. Soon I was concocting Gwyneth’s warm mustard lentil salad (a major yum) for lunch and her olive oil fried eggs for breakfast. (I added my own sprinkle of crisped prosciuto on top.) AND THEN I discovered “Avocado Toast.” As she says, it isn’t really a recipe. You stick some sliced up avocado (or mashed up) on some toast with Vegenaise and maybe sprinkle on some chili flakes.

Being Ms. Paltrow, she puts her avocados on gluten free bread. But I took one look at that stuff at Vons and decided bread made from sawdust is not my thing. So I began to browse the bread aisle, a low-carb dieter’s nightmare.

And that’s when I met Dave’s Killer Bread. The picture of the ex-con on the package was riveting, along with his statement, “ I was a four-time loser. I spent fifteen years in and out of prison.” Now, I write unbrief briefs week after week for more than four-time losers, and I was intrigued by anyone who could leave that life behind and bake bread. In fact, lots and lots of bread. There were so many varieties with seeds and sprouts and no bad things in them (ok, Gwyneth, they did have gluten, but it’s not a problem for me) that I thought I’d died and gone to Foodie Carb Heaven.

As soon as I got home with my loaf of Dave’s Lite Killer Bread, I made a beeline for the website. And here’s what I found:

Dave Dahl is the son of Jim Dahl, who purchased a bakery in Portland, Oregon in 1955. Jim worked extremely hard to develop bread made with whole grains and no animal fats. His bread from the 1960’s, “Surviva,” is still popular today. All of Jim Dahl’s children, including Dave, worked in the family business as they grew up. But Dave, who suffered from severe depression, didn’t appreciate his father’s work ethic, and went on to a life of drugs, assault, armed robbery, and burglary. And to terms in prison in Oregon.

But after fifteen years, Dave decided to be treated for his depression, and he learned drafting design while in prison. He expected to continue with that work, but after he got out his brother Glen, who now ran the bakery after Jim’s death, welcomed him back. Dave put everything he had into developing “Dave’s Killer Bread,” and the family business quickly had a hit.

Here is a link to a great video of Dave telling his story. You want to see this, I promise. http://www.daveskillerbread.com/daves-story/video.html

Dave believes in giving back in lots of ways. One third of his work force consists of ex-felons like himself. And he returned to the prison where he was incarcerated to tell the others they, too, could turn their lives around if, as Dave puts it, they had the humility to ask for help.

Having seen so much hopelessness in my “day job,” I was overwhelmed when I read Dave’s story. And the bread – by the way – makes the most divine Avocado Toast.

“Dave’s Killer Bread – Just Say No to Bread on Drugs!”

Dave

Dave

The Killer Bread

The Killer Bread

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I went to an estate sale on Saturday and acquired some
items that mean the world to me. No one knows why. Here’s why.

A few years ago, the woman who gave birth to me had a stroke that
changed her personality so drastically that I found myself an
orphan in mid-life. She had always been a difficult person, and I
had labored for my whole life to have a place in hers. I had
acquired all the academic bells and whistles, had become a
respected professional, and had done a sometimes heroic job of
raising three children as a single mother. But nothing I ever did
impressed her or was enough for her; and in the end she showed me
the door because I was, in her terms, a poor specimen of a human
being.

She survived the stroke; but our relationship did not. And
that is enough said about that. I found great freedom in accepting
my situation and moving on with my life. She wanted me gone; I gave
her what she wanted. For the first time, there was no voice whining
in my ear that I wasn’t good enough.

A few months later, a story on Good Morning American snagged my attention.
A lovely young woman in her mid-thirties, also cast out by her birth family without
justification, had actually put herself up for adoption. And she
had found a lovely second family. I considered the ad I would have
written. “Lovely little family of four, all outstanding over
achievers, seeks parents and grandparents. Looking only for love
and companionship, holiday celebrations, loving phone calls.”

It was only a fantasy, of course. But fantasy has often gotten me
through some of the harder places in life.

Perhaps the central difference in my birth mother and myself is the ability
to nurture. I’m not quite sure how an Earth Mother like me sprang from an Ice
accept her as she is.

Queen, but I did. I don’t fault her for what she didn’t have. I
But as a born nurturer, I have to have someone or some thing to take care of.
Of course there were my children when they were little. And even now they
are adults, I can still give them some nurturing, although not as much.
But now they are on their own, my days are bracketed by the need
to care for my two Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm. Every morning
and every afternoon, I feed them and walk them to the enchanting
little pond that some of the condos in our development back
up to. And this routine was especially comforting in the days
when I was still hurting from my mother’s ultimatum and
wishing I could advertise us for adoption.

The path to the pond winds through a grove of lacy
eucalyptus trees, past a condo in our development with a greenhouse
window facing the path. Now all these units are rather old. They
were built in 1978 when greenhouse windows were quite the “in”
thing. As Melody and Rhythm and I passed by day after day, month
after month, I noticed that this particular window’s display
changed with each month and often featured ducks, a tribute to the
mallards that inhabit the pond. At Christmas, the window had
caroling ducks in tiny Dickens outfits holding tiny song books. At
Easter, there were ducks and bunnies and pastel eggs. For July,
teddies dressed in red white and blue and lots of those .99 cent
flags. At Thanksgiving the window held a blend of pilgrims, ducks,
and autumn leaves. Then Christmas and the web-footed carolers would
come round again. In between, the window defaulted to a display of
tiny lighthouses, rustic bears, bald eagles with spread wings, and
a pair of tin lanterns. And now and than a new trinket appeared.

The person responsible for this fascinating whimsy was a tall,
thin, grey haired woman, well over eighty. Just about the age of my
former mother. She lived alone, dressed elegantly in expensive
subdued slacks and blouses, and always wore pearls. There were skis
in the garage and a set of golf clubs. In those days, she still
drove. Her regular routine was a trip to the grocery store around
four o’clock each day to decide what to cook herself for dinner.
She first noticed me because she loved my beautiful Goldens, and we
often passed by just as she was beginning or ending this daily food
shop. She’d wave when she saw us and would smile and say something
sweet to Melody and Rhythm.

I learned that her name was Lenore. I caught glimpses of her mahogany Windsor
chairs in her dining room as I passed each day. I saw the tiny beautiful
antique table in the perfect spot in the hall, the tiny spoon
rack above her miniature sideboard, and the glass-fronted
curio cabinets in the living room. I guessed she was a collector,
and that she was not from California. Her condo was an exquisite
blend of Williamsburg-style furniture that few people in
California are drawn to. But I, of course, loved it.
She was just the sort of mother I would have chosen.

Her monthly displays inspired me to decorate my own front
entrance each month. I didn’t have a greenhouse window, so I made a
front door wreath for each month and hung appropriate wooden signs
and ornaments on the tree by the door. Even the grumpy Homeowners
Association wrote me a letter complimenting my charming entrance.
Little did they know it was all because of Lenore and her
greenhouse window.

Lenore seemed to draw people to her. Most afternoons when the weather
was nice she would put off the store trip, and she would sit at the table
on her patio with several of the ladies who lived in the condos. They
would sip white wine from thin-stemmed crystal glasses and chat.
Their ritual included feeding the ducks who would come up to
her patio, flapping their wings if Lenore was late throwing
out their food. Often, Melody and Rhythm and I would be
walking by about this time, and Leonore and her friends
would wave as they threw food to the ducks.

Then, a couple of years ago, Lenore had a stroke. A widow from Connecticut,
she had moved to San Diego when her husband died to be close to her
children living here. So she had plenty of support from children
and grandchildren. She recovered enough to go on living in her
lovely condo with a live-in care giver; and even though she no
longer drove, she steadfastly maintained her old routine. Store in
the afternoon. Friends and duck feeding on the patio. Waving at me
and the retrievers. Church on Sunday. Always beautifully dressed
with pearls, but now she used her ski poles for support instead of
a cane. And the window changed each month just as before.

I came to count on that window. Her creative additions were mini surprises in
my day. Sometimes a new duck. Sometimes a single flower in a vase.
She was obviously a woman of great charm and creativity. Then, this
October, a month after she turned ninety, she died. I didn’t know
for a long time because nothing changed at the condo. There was
even a Christmas tree at Christmas. And the window displays went on
as before.But in early January, I began to see lots of picture
frames in the trash and a woman in the garage going through albums.
Eventually, I learned that these were her children deciding what to
keep and what to let go of.

I was profoundly sad, but her daughter staying at the condo kept
up the old ways. Window decorated. Afternoons with the ladies and
white wine on the patio. Ducks fed. I half hoped Leonore wasn’t really
gone but was on a long visit and coming back. Silly fantasy.
But the day I saw the blue glass vases were no longer in the window
in her bedroom, the truth became very real to me. She and I had loved blue glass vases.

This Saturday, I was one of the first to arrive at the estate sale. I knew exactly
what I wanted. And there they were, still in the greenhouse window,
with tiny price stickers on each one. I don’t know where the
caroling ducks went, or the bunnies or the patriotic teddies, but I
bought the default bears and lighthouses and lanterns. And a tiny
little Limoges heart box to remember her by.

Lenore didn’t really adopt me. But it was a fantasy that got me
through a sad time in my life. I don’t have a greenhouse window,
but I rushed happily home from the sale and arranged my treasures on
shelves in the guest room. And I go in often to stand
in front of them and smile. They mean the world to me.

And something else came from the estate sale, too.
I met Lenore’s son and his wife, and I got to tell them how
much Leonore inspired me. Yesterday I was out walking the
retrievers at the usual time, and they were leaving after closing
up her house for the last time. They made a point of waving to me
just as she would have done.

So prayers are answered. A part of my own family reconnected with me
after my wish went out to the Universe to belong. And now I will always
be able to look at Leonore’s little treasures and remember how
much she inspired and cheered me during a sad time in my life.
The ducks, too, are being looked after. One of her friends comes
by each afternoon about four to feed them as Melody and Rhythm and I go by on our walk.

Lenore's patio just as she left it

Lenore’s patio just as she left it

The ducks and the pond

The ducks and the
pond

The window empty for the first time.

The window empty for
the first time.

Lenore's eagles and lanterns


Lenore’s eagles and lanterns

The light houses

The light houses

Her bears

Her bears

Her January cardinals

Her January
cardinals

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year

When I was a child, New Year’s was a sad holiday. It was the day the now shabby and wilting Christmas tree came down; the day we were forced to eat black-eye peas swimming in bacon grease for luck; and the day before the dreaded Return to School. Whereas December had been filled with class parties, cookies, gift exchanges, singing carols, and a Christmas play that the entire elementary school presented, January was a bleak, cold month in Tennessee filled with homework and early bed time. No magic allowed.

New Year seemed an even more hollow celebration as I grew older. Even though by high school the December lead up to Christmas no longer carried even the slightest celebratory trace of magic, still the idea of two whole weeks without six periods each day, homework to match, and avoiding the Popular People in the halls was anticipatory nirvana. But New Year’s once again marked the end of freedom and the return to drudgery. Nothing joyful about that.

After I graduated to career person, I used to hang out at various New Year’s parties, trying to feel festive and not sad. I never developed a circle of close friends, so I always shouted “Happy New Year!” among strangers. Despite being happy to be included, a holiday with people I didn’t know just reminded me I was pretty much rowing my little boat alone in the big wide ocean. No magic there.

But after I became the mother of three, I began, at last, to see New Year’s differently. It all changed about the time my oldest hit preschool, and I encountered the hurdles that face a Mom with Kids in School between October and January 1. First came Halloween, and sewing costumes. Three children, three costumes, a night of trick or treating, and then scraping my exhausted little ones off the bed and back to school on November 1. Then came Thanksgiving and preparing a feast alone while making sure three children under the age of five did not vaporize themselves while I shopped, chopped, baked, served, and counted the silver forks when it was over to make sure I hadn’t thrown one out. Next came Christmas. More sewing: matching mother, daughter, and sons outfits to wear to church on Christmas Eve. Decorating the house, including hauling a tree home on top of the car. And last, but not least, doing Santa’s work for him – and realizing that Santa Claus was just another way to keep women from earning credit for their own hard work. (On Christmas morning the kids never knew not only had I bought the toys, I had spent the night assembling them!)

When New Year’s rolled around that first year of being a Mom with Kids in School, I took a big breath (after the Christmas tree was down) and realized that no more holidays were in sight until Easter. Yipee! Suddenly New Year’s was not the drab little elf sitting on my shoulder after all the glittering Christmas fairies and angels had departed for warmer climates. No, New Year’s was the well-deserved break I had earned! Thankfully, Valentine’s and Easter were fairly minor holidays in the yearly pantheon, leaving me time to rest up before the onset of serious Birthday Season in our family: May, July, August, and September. Followed, of course again, by Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and – at last – the well earned rest New Year’s!

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I am asking myself if it’s time to take down the Christmas tree. The answer to this question used to be set in stone: on New Year’s Day, it came down. But gradually over the years, especially after the kids grew up and lost interest in the tree, I stopped adhering to the hard and fast rule. Sometimes, if it feels right, I take it down before The New Year. When I got up yesterday morning, I began to feel as if it is about time to put it away.

Of course, I always resist taking it down. Night after night, I like to sit in the livingroom with just the light from the tree and the glitter from the ornaments lighting the dark. Face it, you only get a limited number of nights per year to bask in Christmas magic.

And, every year, as I begin to think about boxing up all the shiny eggs and balls and bells that look as if Faberge colored them and jeweled them and iced them with glitter, I ask myself how it would look to put them on a fake Ficus and leave them up all year round. If I did that, I could also keep my tiny skaters and shoppers, bears and llamas, felt birds and reindeer right where I could see them! Oh, joy! Maybe.

That train of thought always brings me inevitably to one conclusion: you can’t imitate a Christmas tree. Sadly but truly, the magic of the season yields to the new broom that sweeps everything clean on New Year’s Day. As much as I love Christmas, seeing my neighbor’s wreath on the door in late August (yes, he never takes it down) does not fill me with Christmas excitement. It makes me sad, as if I’ve arrived at a party where everyone else has already gone home.

Over the last couple of days, as I have mulled over the task of putting each precious ornament away for another year and boxing up my beloved fake pre-lit pine (don’t gasp in horror, I can’t put up a real five foot tree by myself because it is as big as I am but I can whip this one out of the box in five minutes flat unaccompanied!) I am thinking about the coming year. I often look back at this time, but I have discovered looking back only brings a profound sense of loss. Like the wreath on the door in summer, looking back at the New Year makes me sad.

The point of changing that digit in the date is fresh opportunity. New and wonderful things have been ahead every year but looking back has kept me from anticipating them with joy. I see the point in the Biblical story about Lot’s wife who turned to salt when God told her not to look back as they fled Sodom.

So, I am going to take my tree down with joy and put up my sparkling, fantastical New Year’s decorations with joy, and I am going to embrace the New Year and change and be happy! And I wish everyone of you a happy and prosperous 2013, and thank you for being my readers!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

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A few weeks ago, my faithful 3G HTC Incredible began to do weird things. For example, when I tried to open my text messages, it would tell me its memory was full. But three text messages a full memory doth not make. Ever resourceful, I hit *228 and, against a background of really strange electronic music, Verizon updated my operating system. Problem solved. Or so I thought.

Faithful 3G Droid

But no, my otherwise highly reliable companion since 2009, kept refusing to go about business as usual. And while the *228 trick worked every time, who wants to hear weird music several times a day just to open an app? Not me. (Now if the background music had been my favorite jazz/ska band, Western Standard Time, I might have taken a different view of the proceedings. But what if’s don’t count.)

Favorite Jazz/Ska Band: Western Standard Time

So I went to a Higher Authority – namely my sons, who Understand Technology and speak Geek Speak to perfection. The answer turned out to be simple, but deadly.

“Your operating system is a piece of shit,” my oldest son Chris said with true Geek Speak elegance. “Verizon has stopped updating it. You will have to get a new phone!”

“But I don’t want a new phone. This is the best phone I’ve ever had!” (Read between the lines: I actually know how to use this phone and It Understands Me.)

“Sorry, Mom.”

I was in heavy denial over the impending death of my little Droid buddy. So I sought a Second Opinion.

Not long after my youngest son Michael, computer software major extraordinaire, stepped off the plane for his Thanksgiving visit, I asked him if my 3G baby could be saved. Answer: “Not a chance, Mom.”

So with a heavy heart, after turkey feasting on Thursday, I set out with Michael for the Verizon store on Friday. While we waited eons for our number to come up on the Next Customer List, we browsed around, trying out the 4G phones. Chris had just upgraded to the gigantic Samsung Galaxy. Ever competitive, I announced I wanted one, too, only to be laughed down by the Geek Speakers who said it was Way More Phone Than I Would Ever Need. Ten minutes of swiping its touch screen not only convinced me they were right (to my great humiliation), it also convinced me the phone was way too big to fit into any evening purse ever invented. Clearly a male designed it. Possibly a male who had never seen an evening purse.

Next, I worked my way through the smaller Samsungs and then, at last, found the 4G version of my beloved Droid. Happily I tried to figure out where in the world they had hidden my favorite icons on this new incarnation of my baby. But they were not in the same places!

Michael found me trying to get the hang of the new version.

“It’s not the same phone, Mom.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not. If you get it, you’ll still have to get used to a new phone.”

“No, I won’t.” I was too proud to admit he was right. And I was wondering why they had changed things. At least it wasn’t any bigger than my own little Droid. It would fit into an evening bag!

But, then, for some reason, both Michael and I turned to the left and saw IT: The Windows Phone. It drew us like the Sirens singing to Ulysses or like the Monolith dropping out of the sky in 2001, A Space Odyssey. We picked up its ultra sleek thinness and began to explore its touch screen. I expected to hear the opening fanfare from Thus Spake Zarathustra. (That would make a killer ring tone, by the way.)

The Monolith

Guilt settled over me. How could I even consider another phone? It was like picking out a new husband while the old one watched. But after I discovered the Windows Phone understood my southern accent and would let me dictate a text message, I let Michael talk me into trying one out. After all, I had fourteen days to Bring It Back. And my tiny little thumbs are not user friendly on touch screen key pads. (What do people with big thumbs do? Buy the Samsung Galaxy I guess and forego evening wear.)

Anyway, in deep emotional conflict, I left with the smart, sleek Windows phone in my purse, and its various charming accessories packed into a suitably Christmasy Verizon logoed shopping bag. How could buying a new phone leave me feeling as if I were setting out alone on uncharted waters? Because, truth to tell, the next not quite fourteen days would show me I had done exactly that.

Siren’s song: Windows Phone

Next time: Trying to Survive Without Google Nav or Droid Love II

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CHAPTER ONE
Mid-November, 2010, New York

Conference rooms are all the same. As are airports. On a cold, wet, mid-November afternoon, His Grace, the Eighteenth Duke of Burnham, decided that those who thought running the Burnham Trust was a glamorous job should go from London to Paris to Brussels to New York seeing only conference rooms and airports. He was now trapped in one of the beastly things on the twenty-eighth floor of the Manhattan offices of Craig, Lewis, and Weller, studying the deepening early twilight through the sheets of glass that formed the walls. His mood was as black as the coming night. This was the last leg of his autumn trip to ascertain the status of Trust assets in several countries. And two weeks of nonstop polished mahogany tables, crystal water decanters, dense financial statements delivered by earnest twenty-somethings, and masses of sandwiches on large silver trays had been a mind-numbing combination. He longed to go back to his suite at the Plaza, draw a hot bath, and order a bottle of Balvenie Cask 191.

But a quiet evening in was highly unlikely with Ami Hendria in town. Twenty-eight-year old blonde bombshell actresses were not fans of a low key evening by the fire. Still, he would be the first to admit that one reason he kept Ami around was to avoid having the world find out who Nicholas Carey truly was: a middle-aged homebody, longing for some solitude and a nightcap. On the other hand, the female segment of the populace would have refused to believe his real persona if he had posted it on a billboard in Times Square because, as a widowed duke, every woman he encountered believed he was swinging Prince Charming. And he was anything but that.

Oh, he was bored if his mind wandered to scotch and the possibility of eluding Ami’s grasp that evening. To bring himself back to the present, he looked down the nine-foot glossy mahogany conference table and counted the populace. Three lawyers from Beville, Platt, and Fisher on one side, all local counsel for the Burnham Trust. And two on the other side from Craig, Lewis, and Weller for Miss Reilly’s Female Finishing Academy. Why did it take five lawyers to sell a house to a girl’s school? And why weren’t any of them the one he wanted to see? His operative had named Taylor Collins, a partner in the Craig, Lewis real estate section, as was the one likely to know where Diana’s tape was. He’d told Hollis Craig he wouldn’t sell the Abbey to his daughter Tracy’s school unless Taylor was on the deal. Yet, he’d been trapped in this conference room for more than an hour, with no sign of her.

The tape was so sensitive, Nicholas knew he couldn’t approach Taylor Collins directly about it. But he was more than happy to offer Burnham Abbey, the ancestral home of the Careys, on the sacrificial altar of subterfuge. The place had long been an albatross around his neck that he was determined to remove. He smiled happily at his picture of his father, the Seventeenth Duke, turning in his grave in the chapel about now as the lawyers blathered on blissfully and incomprehensibly about the terms of the deal.

For as many of his forty-nine years as he could remember, he had detested lawyers of every ilk. The American big firm types were particularly irksome because they all looked, sounded, and dressed exactly alike. Dark suits, starched white shirts with monograms on the cuff, and subdued silk ties. And the women lawyers. Oh, he didn’t even want to think about their sexless, baggy black outfits. Was being neutered worth all that money they reportedly made? He knew Taylor was thirty-nine, but he bet she looked at least forty-five and was twenty pounds overweight. And probably chain smoked and had a face like a bulldog. He didn’t look forward to dealing with her.

Well, here was his chance to find out. The massive, dark mahogany door to the conference room opened, and another female suit stepped inside. Except this one was so, so different from the others. And not at all the woman he had expected to see.

“Sorry to be late. I had a call from the Cuniff trustee that I had to take.” She was speaking to Hollis Craig, but a pair of eyes the color of spring violets were fixed on him. Very like Diana’s eyes, but deeper.

“My partner, Taylor Collins, Your Grace. She’s going to be in charge of the file for Miss Reilly’s as we agreed.”

His heart was racing so fast, he had difficulty speaking, so he merely nodded in response. At thirty-nine, she looked ten years younger. He guessed the form-hugging black wool suit on her tiny five foot two frame was Chanel. She barely weighed a hundred pounds. Her jacket allowed a demure ruffle to spill over its dark edge, highlighting the single strand of perfect pearls circling her creamy throat. Her dark hair was pulled back into the usual professional woman’s knot, revealing more perfect pearl drops in her exquisite little ears. He wondered what she looked like when her hair was wild and free. Her face was impassively professional, yet he sensed much more lay beneath the surface. Physically he was drawn to her so strongly that he wondered what color La Perla’s she was wearing, but he longed for more than sex. He desperately craved the impossible: time alone and the chance to know who she was beneath the lawyer facade.

The conference room doors opened once more and another black-suited woman with hair also tightly wound roused Nicholas from his fantasies. She wasn’t as expensively dressed, and he recognized her immediately as the telephone receptionist who sat at the throne-like desk opposite the elevators. Her task was to greet everyone who arrived at the twenty-eighth floor.

“Your Grace?”

Why did all professional woman have to slick their hair into those ridiculous knots? Did it make them seem more serious? More competent?

“Your Grace, ” she repeated. She was young, early twenties. There was that look in her eyes that said, maybe I will be his Cinderella. Even a woman in a business suit longs to be a princess. Or at least a duchess. Although he doubted Taylor Collins would be interested.

“Yes, Miss –?”

” La Breaux. Marie La Breaux.”

“Well, yes, Miss La Breaux? What is it?”

“A call for you.”

” I’ll take it later. After we’ve wrapped up in here.”

“I’m afraid it’s the headmistress from your ward’s school.”

“Oh, God. Very well.” Nicholas got up and went into the adjoining conference room, this one dominated by a long glass table, sterile enough for surgery, surrounded by empty high-backed chairs. It looked like a board meeting of ghosts, and for a moment Nicholas saw the empty room as a metaphor for his own life. The people he had loved the most were all ghosts: his mother, Deborah, Diana, Annabel.

“Hello?”

“Helen Myrtin, Your Grace, from Miss Whitcomb’s School.” Her thin, nasal vowels sliced through the silence and reminded Nicholas that in person she appeared as intimidating as she sounded. Thirty-five. Always dressed in suits so crisp they looked like military uniforms. “I’m afraid there’s been a bit of difficulty with Lucy. Again.”

Nicholas had hoped she wouldn’t refer to the past, but in fairness, she had a right to sound exasperated. It had taken a hefty chunk of Trust cash, tastefully donated to the school’s general fund, to keep Lucy there the last time. “Tell me about the problem, Mrs. Myrtin.”

A very human sigh surprised him. “I’m so sorry, Your Grace. I hate giving bad news.”

“If she’s drinking again–”

“I wish that were the only problem. Unfortunately, Lucy has begun to experiment with drugs. She had too much to drink, threw up in the loo, and passed out. One of the other girls found her and called Matron who called Dr. Briggs. When he looked her over he found signs of cocaine use. And later we located some of the drug among her things.”

Nicholas gripped the phone and willed her to stop speaking. The alcohol had started last year. It had been tough to deal with a fifteen-year-old with a taste for scotch. Maybe he should have seen the other coming. But he had put his head in the sand. “Are you very sure that she was actually using the stuff–not just trying to sell it?” Both were bad, but using was worse. It would be much harder to stop that.

“Perfectly sure.” The headmistress’ voice tightened in response to his denial. Give me any window, any hole to escape this he prayed. Don’t make me deal with another failure where Lucy is concerned. I know it’s my fault. But it hurts too much. Far too much. Still, fate had already done its work. There was no going back. “Dr. Briggs says the drug caused bleeding around her nose. The girl who found her in the loo thought she was dying.”

“I see. And where is Lucy now?”

“In the infirmary. We have to send her down. At least until the New Year. You realize that, of course.”

“Of course.” But she wasn’t saying out for good. There was still hope. “But after Christmas?”

“You’ll have to show us that she was treated. And that she’s–uh, how do they say- clean. Perhaps one of those drug management programs in Harley Street. Although I will warn you the source is her boyfriend. He’ll find her if she’s in London. He’s very persistent.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Well, man-friend, actually. Didn’t you know about David Lowenby? She said you approved.”

“David Lowenby is Lord Gaynor’s heir and twenty-five years old. He’s almost ten years older than Lucy. She couldn’t have been seeing him.”

“I’m afraid she has. She told us she had your permission,” Ms. Myrtin repeated.

“And you believed that?” Nicholas didn’t even attempt to control his outrage.

“Well,” her tone of detached poise seemed to slip momentarily, “I did think of ringing you up. But she was so emphatic. Good family. All that.”

He sighed. “Well, the harm’s done. But if I put her in Harley Street, Lowenby will find her with more cocaine. You are right. I’ll have to think about what to do.”

“There are home programs, I think. Nurses you can hire. Maybe one of the Harley Street clinics can give you some information. But we do have to send her away today. And you appear to be out of the country.”

“New York is not the ends of the earth, Mrs. Myrtin. I can telephone my staff. I’ll send an estate car for her as soon as you ring off. I would imagine my driver can be there within the hour.”

“That would be greatly appreciated, Your Grace.”

After Nicholas hung up, he sat for a long minute watching the New York sky line; he felt empty and sad and defeated. She had promised no more drinking. She would study to get into Oxford. She would find some meaning and purpose for her life. Not just parties and shopping. But all her promises had meant nothing. He glanced at his watch: 4:30 here, so 9:30 in London. He could have Lucy at Burnham Square before midnight.

He picked up the phone once more, this time punching the intercom button.

“Marie La Breaux, here, Your Grace.” She sounded so eager. For what, he wondered.

“Please get my butler on the phone and tell him to send a car to fetch my ward from school. At once.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I’m sorry the news was bad.”

But he wasn’t inclined to tell her anything, so he ignored her condolences. First rule of survival in the tabloid fishbowl of aristocratic life. Never give anyone information about yourself. “And get my London solicitor on the line. Lord Thomas. My personal assistant will give you the numbers.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” She sounded more distant now. She had understood he was not going to let his guard down with her.

Kerry Thomas, his chief friend from Eaton, would know what to do. Restraining orders–whatever it took to keep the press out of Lucy’s screw-up. Maybe he could recommend a treatment program. A scholarship boy from a poor London family, Kerry was resourceful. And now rich.

As he sat waiting for Kerry’s call, he wondered if he should fly back to London that night or follow his original plan to return in the morning. His pilot was used to turning around on a dime if Nicholas demanded it, but sticking to his original itinerary looked very attractive. He didn’t feel ready to face Lucy and her problems any sooner than tomorrow night. If then. He could stay at the Ritz for a couple of days and avoid his townhouse at Burnham Square for at least forty-eight hours. Cowardly, but tempting.

Then, too, it was Ami’s last night in New York before she flew to Paris to begin a new movie. She expected him to take her to dinner at Per Se, with dancing afterwards at Provacateur. The thought of all that throbbing music punctuated by green strobes gave him a headache in advance. In addition to being very egocentric, American twenty-something actresses loved night life. And were completely convinced that dukes did, too, despite his sincere explanations to the contrary.

Well, even if blonde American actresses had dukes pegged correctly, and they all liked to boogie until dawn, he didn’t. Maybe it was because he had never felt much like a duke to begin with. Maybe it was because he hadn’t been intended to be one, either. Arthur had been real duke material. He could picture his older half-brother at Provacateur until the wee hours. He didn’t deserve a lifetime subbing for Arthur.

Hours under strobe lights, sandwiched between gyrating, sweating bodies was just the sort of thing Deborah would have loved and would have insisted that he do with her. But even the most boring things had been worth doing – just to be close to her. All at once, he could see another pair of blue eyes. Not deep violet like Taylor’s, but pale as spring rain, cool, and appraising. Deborah’s eyes. Deborah’s voice. “I can’t live locked away in that decaying old house in Kent. Don’t be ridiculous. There’s everything to do in London and nothing at the Abbey except watching it crumble to bits stone by stone. You can’t seriously be thinking of living there.” He could hear her voice as clearly as if more than a decade had not gone by since the last time she had spoken. And he could picture her graceful body and the way she would shake her golden, shoulder-length hair to make a point.

The memory was too sharp and too clear, and it hurt too much. He brought himself back to the dilemma of Lucy. He would leave New York in the morning as planned. But he’d lie to Ami and cancel the evening. She’d be furious, but she’d get over it. And if she didn’t, there were a zillion more just like her waiting to attach themselves to him. He badly wanted his evening alone at the Plaza with his bottle of scotch. No, that wasn’t what he wanted at all. He wanted to take Taylor Collins to dinner at Per Se, drown in her violet eyes, and learn everything about her, including which places on her tiny exquisite body she liked to be touched. But that was out of the question. He hadn’t expected her to be beautiful and sexy, but he had to force himself to stay on track. He had made a promise to Deborah and to Diana. He couldn’t be so distracted that he gave up his quest for the truth.

He would telephone Steve Riddely now and arrange for him to come round early in the morning to look at Lucy and advise him about treatment programs when he returned. Steve’s father had been his own father’s doctor, and he knew he could trust him not to tell anyone why Lucy had been sent down.
As for himself, he was a coward. Tomorrow or even the next day would be time enough to deal with Lucy.

* * *

The next morning, his Lear Jet was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m. As he sat on the tarmac, waiting in the queue of airplanes for clearance to taxi and takeoff, Nicholas Carey reflected upon his success the prior evening. Ami had been easily put off with a promise to fly her to London the following week. Apparently she was willing to risk the ire of her director to be with him. Not a good development. But the bottle of Balvenie Cask 191 had been superb. He had almost obliterated the shock of meeting Taylor Collins with its joys.

But he was sober now, and she was very much on his mind. He had to find a way to see her again. Not only to find Diana’s tape, but to learn more about her. How to do it without being obvious? Ah, the sale of the house. She was the lead lawyer on the file for the buyer. This would be easy. Way too easy. He picked up his cell and dialed his personal assistant.

“Myles?”

“Your Grace.”

“I want you to call Suzanne Kelly, the woman at Miss Reilly’s who is overseeing their purchase of the Abbey. Tell her there may be a problem with conveying a clear title to the school; and their attorney, Taylor Collins, must come to England and personally examine the documents to determine whether the Trust can actually sell the house.”

“Will do, Your Grace.”

“And another thing. The land conveyance records are at the Abbey library in the family papers section. Keep them in the library but hide them where they’ll be very difficult to find.”

“Yes, Your Grace. Anything else?”

“Only one. Book a suite for me at the Ritz for the next three days. I need some time and space away from Lucy while I think about what to do with her.”

“Done, Your Grace.”

The jet gathered speed for take off. Nicholas watched New York begin to drop away behind him. If Taylor knew about Diana’s tape, her life was in danger.

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Life as a stay-at-home mother of three children, five and under, was an endlessly demanding job. I had always been a hard worker and an over achiever, but child/care 24/7 was the most exhausting challenge yet. There were days when, as much as I loved my three little ones, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get up at sun rise and keep going. I had never been so tired in my life. And I had a sinus infection that lasted for three and a half years. One unhelpful and terrifying male doc said I needed to be tested for HIV. The woman doc whom I went to for testing and whose children were the same ages as mine couldn’t stop laughing when I told her why I was there. Honestly, it wasn’t very funny.

I became fascinated with Princess Diana in that period. I’m not sure why. There were probably a lot of reasons for my fixation. First, I loved her clothes. Whether in her early Laura Ashley mode or in her shoulder-padded Power Suit mode in the 1980’s, she was gorgeous. She was the IT Girl of Style.

Second, she delighted in mothering just the way that I did. In the pictures of her with William and Harry, who were only a few years older than my children, her love shines off the page. Granted when she played games with them in their nursery, she’d had a full night’s sleep because her nanny was on call, but even my sleep-deprived brain could connect with another mother who loved her children the way I loved mine.

Third, she and I had entered into similar marriages. My husband’s job was to our marriage what Camilla Parker Bowles was to Diana’s. The third party to my marriage was a corporation whereas for Diana it was the Other Woman; but the result was the same. And Diana had married a man who wanted a wife and children from Central Casting to be available only for photo ops. And so had I.

Fourth, Diana went through a very public divorce with a man determined to wound and humiliate. One of my few consolations on those terrifying days when I left the Family Law Courthouse threatened with the loss of my children and so emotionally upset that I was afraid to drive, was that at least the venom that had just been spit in my face wasn’t going to be heard around the world. For Diana, it was a very different story.

I didn’t lose my children. I would have if I hadn’t been a lawyer. Oddly enough, the role that sat most uncomfortably on my heart was the one that saved the people I loved most from being lost to me. But that victory came at a heavy price. During that marriage, I had done the thing I had wanted to do all my life: I had written a novel. After a lot of tries, I even got an agent in New York. In those early dark days of my divorce, my little book traveled from editor to editor at major publishing houses. Some did not like it. Some liked it but would not buy it. It was called Summers’ Child, a title that another writer would use for her own very successful novel some years later. (I had copyrighted my manuscript, and I knew she hadn’t done her homework before using my title.)

But when my husband found out that I had written a novel that was not succeeding with New York publishers, he dragged me down to the Family Law Courthouse and accused me in public of being a no-account deadbeat who was trying to live off child and temporary spousal support. He argued that I was trained as a lawyer, and so I had to go back to work as a lawyer. Even though I hadn’t done any work as a lawyer for eight years and hadn’t the foggiest idea, anymore, how to even sigh on to a legal research service.

Family Law Court, at least in those days, was a terrifying hell of illegality. I had graduated second in my class from law school, and I knew how unconstitutional the various rulings from that court were. The family law court operated at that time as if the Right to Privacy did not exist. At one point, I actually thought they were going to send me to involuntary psycho therapy to force me to withdraw my accurate and true statements that my husband had abused me and the children. I felt as if I’d wound up in a Russian Gulag as a political prisoner for not Speaking the Party Line.

I knew how to challenge these outrageous family law court rulings in higher courts. But the problem was I had to play the Family Law Court game or lose those dearest to me. It would do me no good to take my case to the United States Supreme Court only to be reunited with my children by my victory there when they were adults. So even though the Thirteenth Amendment abolished involuntary servitude, the state of California said I had to go back to work as a lawyer. And I did. In my living room, where I wrote appellate briefs and remained close to my children. But who I really was born to be was quietly dying, day by day.

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