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by Janet Woods
Description: Pandora's life changes when an inheritance forces her to confront her past. She is shocked to discover a daughter born in her teens and believed dead, is very much alive. Aided by her new love, the confronting Welsh psychiatrist Bryn Llewellyn, Pandora is consumed by her need to find the girl--only to be rejected. Tragedy reunites the pair in a painful and uneasy relationship? Contemporary Relationships Novel/Women's Fiction by Janet Woods; originally published by Robert Hale [UK]
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [439 KB]
Reading time: 283-396 min.
The phone rang.
"Pandora Rossiter speaking."
"It's me, your grandmother."
The silence lasted almost a quarter of a minute, then Pandora proceeded with caution. It might be something completely different to what she feared. "Why have you called?"
"I need you. I'll expect you after the weekend."
Pandora expelled her breath in a sigh. This was typical of Emily Dysart, Straight out with it and with no regard for another person's convenience or sensibilities. She ignored the emotion churning in her chest. Her grandmother wouldn't welcome it. "I see."
"You'll come then?"
"That goes without saying."
"The will's written up. You'll inherit everything."
Pandora didn't ask about her aunt Lottie and grandmother didn't mention her. There was no need. She would never leave the estate to poor Lottie.
After she replaced the receiver Pandora stared unseeingly out into the garden. At last she'd been forgiven for disgracing the family name. She felt like crying, but she didn't. Emotional outpourings had always been frowned upon when she'd been growing up. She gave a faint smile. Even if she'd decided to cry the dear ducts would have probably atrophied through disuse by now and all she'd cry was dust.
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
Emily Dysart was dying. She'd told Pandora a little while back, but it had taken her two years to reach the point of inviting her granddaughter to witness the event. With her passing Pandora's life would change - and so would Gerald's.
She pressed her face against the cool glass pane. Today was her husband's fiftieth birthday. The predictable surprise party had been arranged - the cake with candles; the champagne in ice buckets and the barbecue in the garden.
The neighbours had arrived, eager to make an occasion of it because most of them were retired, and the village of Cedarbrook in the county of Gloucestershire offered little in the way of excitement except for an eagle's nest high on an outcrop of rock, and the dubious and infinite drama of other people's lives.
There had been the usual elaborate charade that morning, pretending the postman was late, deliberately forgetting to wish Gerald a happy birthday until he left for the office, and making out a shopping list to delay his arrival home whilst the guests assembled. How boringly predictable it all was.
The boys were already home from school for the weekend. They were almost men now. Adrian was captain of the cricket eleven, and destined for Oxford next year. Michael was in his penultimate school year and set to follow in his brother's footsteps.
They were Gerald clones. Tall, their hair a light brown, they were quietly good-mannered and already showing signs of stuffiness. Both would probably become accountants and join the family firm. It was hard to believe she was their mother, or that enough passion had been generated in her to conceive them.
When Gerald's car edged into view she pasted an automatic smile on her lips. Gerald wouldn't dream of having sex with her when he was in the middle of an affair. She was his wife, and relegated into the pending basket. When it was over she was serviced out of a sense of guilt and duty, as if Gerald was charging the battery of the classic car in the garage that he took for a spin now and again just to keep it ticking over.
He'd just started an affair with his latest secretary. Pandora was considering leaving him
She watched him alight from the car, handsome, with just the right shades of silver in his hair to make him distinguished. There was the touch of boyishness in the curve of his smile and smugness too - the smile of a man who knew his worth, his rightness, and his place in the world. His glance wandered to where she stood at the window, his ego needing the reassurance of knowing she was waiting for him to come home.
She was perfectly groomed, as he expected her to be. Her hair was fashioned into a chignon, her straw-coloured linen dress immaculate and her feet encased in brown leather sandals with small heels.
His smile expanded with practiced ease and confidence, and he raised a hand in greeting. She returned the smile, the curve of her mouth a perfected exercise. Her green eyes feigned a welcome.
What hypocrites they both were!
Pandora was thirty-eight years old. She'd stood at this window every evening for nineteen years, waiting for Gerald to appear. This was the last time she'd do so.
There was an air of secretive excitement about him when he approached the house, like a child who knows he's won a prize, and pretends ignorance. Stupidly childish really, for a man who'd passed his prime.
His lips brushed her cheek. She could smell his secretary on him. Duty free scent from the trip to France and sprayed on like a randy cat leaving its irresistible mating scent. Gerald didn't go for the subtle type. Each time he started an affair he took them to the same hotel in France for the weekend, and bought them the same perfume.
She always did rather better than them with her conscience gift.
"Darling, they're perfectly lovely, you shouldn't have," she murmured, clipping the diamonds into her ears. She tied a silk scarf around his eyes and led him towards the garden - part of the charade.
"Surprise!" everyone shouted.
Gerald managed a totally amazed smile, one that faltered for a moment when he set eyes on his secretary.
Pandora didn't usually invite his secretary, but she thought it might prove to be fun this time. It was going to be more so, on this, the last time she would host Gerald's birthday party.
His secretary's mouth was a tangerine gash, her hair was a smooth, hennaed bob, her body angular. She looked frighteningly efficient and fit - not one to settle for being the other woman. The secretary's eyes ran speculatively over the house then lit on Gerald, her secret smile telling all who were watching that she had some sort of claim. His eyelids flickered as he consciously avoided her gaze and he sucked in his stomach.
As the evening progressed Gerard became over-animated, like a youth trying hard not to show off, and nearly succeeding.
Pandora's eyes flicked from one to another, watching, assessing, trying not to give the game away by allowing her amusement show
The secretary's smile was brittle, her eyes adoring and possessive of Gerald. She looked about eighteen, was actually twenty-two. What was her name ... Anne ... Mary? Something short. Pandora smiled apologetically at her. "So sorry, I have a terrible memory for names."
"Mare, without the I."
Mare-without-the-I couldn't meet her eyes.
"As in female horse? It must be a nuisance, having to explain the pronunciation all the time."
She felt a twinge of conscience when Mare suddenly looked unsure of herself.
"I don't, usually. Gerald ... Mr Rossiter said it's better not to."
Pandora knew what it was like to be in love with Gerald, she'd been in love with him herself at that age - and still loved him, in a sanitized, habit sort of way, because she'd learned to ignore his faults over the years.
She decided not to tell him today. Today was his birthday. Today the boys were home.
She told him about the inheritance on the Sunday night, after the boys had gone back to school.
"Let me get this straight," he said, buttoning up his blue-striped flannel pyjamas. "You're going to Dorset to look after your grandmother?"
"That's right." She applied moisturising cream to her neck and massaged it in. "Will you mind?" Say you do and I'll overlook this latest secretary and stay. She could see his face in the mirror, his brow wrinkled in thought. Her mind jettisoned a contradictory thought. Tell me to go!
"The alternative would be a nursing home, I suppose?"
Her fingers slowly strangled the neck of the cosmetics jar as she screwed the lid on tight. Did he have to deliberate when the fate of their marriage hung in the balance? "Grandma doesn't want that ... there's Lottie to consider as well."
"Ah yes, Lottie." He sighed rather heavily, as if Lottie was his problem.
"It's not that I want to go, Gerald. It's my duty." Gerald understood words like duty.
"Yes ... yes, of course. Once it's over you can put Lottie in a home somewhere." He yawned, closed his eyes and turned on his side. "That's settled then."
Not as far as she was concerned. "I asked you if you'd mind."
"Of course not. The boys and I will be all right," he said sleepily. "And it won't be for long. As soon as you get the inheritance we can sell the house. Marianna must be worth quite a bit. The money can be invested."
She stared at the mound under the covers. Gerald always fell asleep swiftly after he took his sleeping pill, and started to snore exactly thirty seconds later.
The second hand on the crystal mantle clock ticked off the seconds. Five ... six ... seven ... How could she have ever married a man who wore blue-striped pyjamas?
"I'll never sell Marianna, and if I go, I won't be coming back," she whispered. Twenty-nine ... thirty ...
A snore gently burrowed into his pillow.
"I gave birth to a daughter when I was fifteen," she said out loud. "If she hadn't died she would have been twenty-three years old now."
He kept snoring. It was odd how used she'd become to carrying on a conversation with herself. Perhaps she was going mad!
"Her father was a family member. He didn't hurt me, even though I was under age. It was all hushed up, that's why I didn't tell you." Sparks flew from her hair as she swooshed the brush through it. "Grandma wouldn't believe he was the father, and I didn't understand then that he was just a dirty old man. I hope you're not going to be a dirty old man too, Gerald."
He mumbled something that sounded like Mare's name.
She stared over at him, eyes narrowing. "How long have you been screwing your latest secretary?"
The snoring stopped and she grinned. "You didn't think I was capable of such language, did you? You think I'm made of plastic, that you wind me up with a key and I perform for you. Well, not any more, Gerald."
A series of bubbling snorts danced from the side of his mouth.
"I know all about your affairs." Throwing the brush amongst the various pots of cosmetics littering her dressing table she strolled across the room and slid into bed beside him. "Poor Gerald. You're such a fool."
He sucked in a deep, shuddering breath and started snoring again, deeply and evenly.
Her lips brushed against his cheek in a goodbye kiss. "Sweet dreams."
Emily Dysart watched her granddaughter through lowered lids.
Pandora was sitting in a cane chair gazing out over the garden, her eyes dreamy and retrospective, as if she was remembering the past. She was breathtakingly beautiful in her maturity.
Emily had loved her to distraction once, but that was before she'd driven her grandfather into his grave. Pandora should have kept her counsel.
"I'm not going back to Gerald," Pandora suddenly said, and turned to smile at her. "He has affairs."
"No one has ever been divorced in the Dysart family. One puts up with things and turns a blind eye." Emily might as well not have spoken, and wished she hadn't when an accusatory glance was flicked her way.
Pandora folded her hands in her lap. "I'm going to live here. If I go back to Gerald he'll sell Marianna and put Lottie in a home."
Pandora had always been fond of Lottie, something Emily had banked on.
Emily didn't want to be fussed with problems and she didn't want to quarrel. She didn't have the strength. Pandora would do what she wanted to do - she always had.
The breeze coming through the window was perfumed with lavender and sunshine. It wasn't the sort of day one should talk about such things. It was a day to drift, something she'd just learned to do.
A musty, decaying smell wafted up from her body, which was as dry and as folded as old flannel. Death was a step away, waiting for her to trip - waiting to catch her. She made a strangled sound in her throat, refusing to take that step.
Her granddaughter came to place a wrap round her shoulders. Pandora's fingers drifted gently over her hair and she sighed. "Why did you send me away?"
"Oh, God, why rake that up?" Emily whispered, when what she really wanted to say was, Why dredge up the guilt I've been living with all these years?
Pandora's eyes were as green and as brilliant as emeralds when she turned, and her smile serene. "It was cruel to send me away when I was grieving for my baby."
She should have known Pandora wouldn't let her die without punishing her. Emily rallied her remaining strength. "How could you grieve when you hardly saw her?"
Pandora's eyes softened. "The nurse let me hold her. Her skin was so soft and her hair was like silk.
A tear gathered at the corner of Emily's eye, a tiny, crystalline drop. Although she tried to stop it, it was followed by another, then another. Embarrassed by this show of emotion she gave an anguished cry.
"It's all right, Grandma." Gathered into Pandora's arms, she was rocked gently against her chest, as if Pandora was the mother figure, she the child. It felt comforting.
Why hadn't she ever rocked Pandora in her arms and comforted her when she'd been troubled? Why hadn't she taken her side when it became obvious she'd been telling the truth, and why had she closed her eyes in Lottie's time of need?
Because she'd mistaken her own stubbornness for strength. There was no time for false pride now. She should tell Pandora she loved her, tell her she'd lied. But although the words trembled on her lips they were too hard to say and were pulled back into the knot of misery lodged in her chest.
It was too late to tell her the truth. She couldn't jeopardise Pandora's love now, and ignorance wouldn't hurt her.
Yet she needed to be forgiven. Her chest constricted around her sob, as though it was being squeezed in someone's fist. "I'm so sorry, Pandora."
"I know, grandma," she said soothingly, "I know."
But Pandora didn't know - and death was just a tiny step away ...