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Authors: Brenda Joyce

After Innocence

BOOK: After Innocence
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BRENDA
JOYCE

After Innocence

This one’s for Marjorie Braman, my editor and my friend.

Not only because of her enthusiasm, her energy,
her loyalty and support,
but because she understands my need to be challenged,
because she encourages me to take risks,
because she pushes me to be
the best that I can be—
and because she is one great editor!
Thank you, Marjorie.

“COME HERE, SOFIE.”

His anger made him compelling, exciting. Her eyes wide, Sofie stood up as if a puppet on his string. He crooked his finger at her again and Sofie found herself walking toward him, her heart pounding very hard.

“How did you find me?”

“I’ve made you my affair, my dear,” he said, staring her down.

Sofie could not look away. His choice of words, his bedroom tone, his bold, blue gaze, it all had quite the effect on her. Sofie flushed scarlet. She found it difficult to breathe. And she knew Suzanne was right. He wanted to make her his lover. He wanted to take her to his bed. His intention was seduction.

Knowing that, Sofie could not respond.

Table of Contents

Cover

Titile Page

Prologue

Part One
- The Prodigal Daughter

  
1

  
2

  
3

  
4

  
5

  
6

  
7

  
8

  
9

10

11

12

13

14

15

Part Two
- La Bohème

16

17

18

19

20

Part Three
- A Woman of Principle

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

Part Four
- After Innocence

Epilogue

About the Author

Avon Books by Brenda Joyce

Copyright

About the Publisher

Prologue

New York City, 1890

“S
ofie, where are you?”

The little girl cringed. She set her mouth stubbornly and did not move from the small corner in her bedroom, trapped between the cheerfully papered wall and the adult-sized bed.

Footsteps sounded, approaching. “Sofie?” Her mother’s tone was sharp, annoyed. “Sofie! Where are you?”

Sofie inhaled hard, tears filling her eyes, as the door banged open and Suzanne appeared in the doorway.
If only Papa were here. If only he hadn’t gone away. If only he would come home.

“Sofie! When I call, you come! What are you doing? I have something important to tell you!” Suzanne said in a strident voice.

Sofie reluctantly met her mother’s gaze, which quickly turned furious, spotting the paper at her feet.

“What is this?” Suzanne cried, bending. She snatched the sheet of paper, brilliantly, boldly colored, from her. Still, even to an adult, there was no mistaking the figures in the drawing, which, while childish, were surprisingly vivid and real. The picture was composed of a man, whose proportions were gigantic, heroic, and a very small blond child. Both characters were running, the child after the adult.

“Look at you—you’re a mess!” Suzanne cried, tearing the pastel painting in two. “Stop drawing your father—do you hear me? Stop it!”

Sofie dug her back more deeply into the corner. She said nothing. She wanted her papa. How she wanted him. How she missed him.

Her big, handsome papa, always laughing, always hugging her, always telling her how much he loved her and how good and smart and beautiful she was.

Please come home, Papa,
Sofie thought.

Suzanne made an effort to relax. She held out her hand. “Come here, dear,” she said, softly now.

Sofie didn’t hesitate. She gave her palm to her mother, who pulled her to her feet. “Sofie,” Suzanne began, then hesitated. “You must know. I have bad news. Jake is not coming back.”

Sofie recoiled, jerking free of her mother. “No! He promised! He promised me!”

Suzanne’s beautiful jaw flexed. Her eyes were hard. “He is not coming back. He cannot. Sofie—your father is dead.”

Sofie stared. She understood death. A few months ago her cat had died and Sofie had found it, stiff and unmoving, its eyes open but unseeing. But her papa, Papa could not be like that!

“He is not coming back,” Suzanne repeated firmly. “He is dead.” Suzanne grimaced. “Just what he deserved, if you ask me,” she muttered to no one in particular.

“No!” Sofie shrieked. “No, I do not believe you!”

“Sofie!”

But it was too late. Sofie flew from the room, as fast as her gangly legs would carry her. She raced down the corridor of the huge, frightening home her father had built so proudly for them, a home they had moved into only a few months before he had left. He could not be dead! He had promised to come home!

“Sofie, come back!” Suzanne was shouting.

Sofie ignored her. The marble stairs were ahead of her. She did not care, did not slow. Sofie hit the first step, the second. It was only when she lost her balance that she realized she should have slowed much sooner. With a cry she fell, tumbling down one step after another, like a Raggedy Ann doll, limbs sprawling, hair flying,
around and around, down and down, until she landed with a final thump on the floor below.

And there she lay, unmoving.

Sofie was stunned. But whether from the fail or the news of her father’s death, she hardly knew. Slowly her head stopped spinning and her vision cleared. She did not move.
Papa was dead. Oh, Papa,
she wept.

She became aware of an excruciating pain shooting through her ankle, and when she sat up, it was so intense that white light blinded her. She panted and the light disappeared, but the pain did not. Still, instead of holding her leg, she held her chest with both hands, curling into a ball, weeping.

“Miss Sofie, Miss Sofie, are you all right?” The housekeeper came rushing to her.

Sofie looked up the stairs at her mother, who stood silent and frozen on the landing two floors above, her face white, her eyes wide.

Sofie looked at the ground. “I am fine, Mrs. Murdock,” she lied. Her mother didn’t love her, and Papa was dead—how could she survive?

“You are hurt,” Mrs. Murdock cried, bending to help her up.

“If she is hurt, it is her own fault,” Suzanne said coldly from above. Glaring at Sofie, she turned away.

Sofie gazed after her mother, starting to cry again.
I am hurt, Mama. Please come back!
But she did not call after her.

Mrs. Murdock lifted her to her feet after Suzanne was gone. Sofie could not stand on her right foot and leaned heavily against the kind housekeeper. She had to bite her lip to keep from screaming now.

“I’ll see you to bed and get the doctor,” Mrs. Murdock said.

“No!” Sofie cried, panicked. Tears started to stream down her cheeks again. She knew Suzanne would be furious if she was really hurt, and she was sure that if she rested, it would go away. And maybe, maybe if she was good, if she was very good, if she stopped drawing and did as she was told, Suzanne would love her more. “No, no, I am fine!”

But she was not fine. She would never be fine again.

1

Newport Beach, 1901

I
t was a glorious day. Sofie no longer regretted leaving the city in order to attend her mother’s weekend beach party.

A large sketchbook in one hand, charcoal in the other, Sofie paused on the crest of a dune to take in the view. The Atlantic Ocean lapped the shore, dappled from the sun. Above, gulls wheeled. The sky was a nearly blinding shade of blue. Sofie smiled, lifting her face, shadowed by a straw hat, towards the sunlight. It was moments like these that made Sofie realize that there was life outside of her studio’s four walls.

Then the throbbing of her ankle brought her back to her senses. She should not linger. Coming down to the beach could still prove to be a mistake. She did have a wonderful preliminary rendering of Newport’s shore, which she would begin in oils as soon as she returned to the city, but an entire evening awaited her, and it would be even less pleasant for her if she was limping more than was usual. Suzanne had a houseful of weekend guests, and Sofie could not help but feel some dread. In truth, if she had her choice, she would lock herself in her room and paint. But she did not have her choice, she had promised Suzanne to be her most sociable self, and Sofie intended to try her best to please her mother.

Sighing, Sofie imagined the long evening ahead as she began to descend the dune. She wondered if she would know any of her mother’s guests. She hoped so. As immersed
in her world of art as she was, Sofie rarely ventured out into society, and could not converse with strangers and mere acquaintances with the casual ease that seemed to be second nature to everyone else. Her younger sister, Lisa, had once told her that one conversed upon whatever topic was at hand or in sight—such as the beautiful porcelain vase one stood near. It sounded much easier than it actually was. Sofie decided not to worry about the impending evening. No one expected her to be the belle of the ball.

Sofie moved awkwardly down the scrub-covered dune in her uneven gait, and after several feet, paused to rest. Trying to catch her breath, she glanced about and her eye caught a flash of bright white. Sofie looked again. She glimpsed a man strolling down another path in the dunes just below her. Like herself, he was leaving the beach, but he had not seen her.

The sight of him was so arresting that Sofie froze, completely forgetting herself and the rest of her surroundings. He was bareheaded, his thick black hair a startling contrast to the stark white of his finely tailored linen sack jacket. He wore it casually open, its sides billowing in the breeze, and his hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his pale cream-hued trousers. He was a large man, Sofie could see that, for he was tall and broad-shouldered, but he moved with the grace of someone much smaller, somehow as lithe and sleek as a black panther she had once seen in the Bronx Zoo. Sofie was captivated. From this distance she could just make out his tanned features, which seemed to be extraordinarily handsome. She had to paint him. Abruptly she. sat down, flipping open her notebook. Her heart thundering in excitement, she began to draw.

“Edward! Wait!”

Sofie’s hand froze as, startled, she watched a woman flying up the path after the stranger. Sofie recognized her neighbor, Mrs. Hilary Stewart. Why on earth would Hilary be running after this man in such a fashion, with her skirts lifted high in one hand, shamelessly revealing long, white-stockinged legs? Then it dawned on Sofie what Hilary might be about, and she blanched, shocked.

Sofie sternly told herself that it was not her affair and that she should go. Quickly she tried to finish the study
of the stranger, adding a few last strokes. Then the sound of his voice, male and low, silken and baritone, made her hand still. Sofie lifted her head, finding herself helplessly ensnared by the masculine sound, involuntarily straining to hear.

Hilary was clutching his shoulders. She swayed a little, as if pushed by the breeze—or as if waiting for his kiss.

Sofie’s heart beat double time. It was as she had thought—as she had feared. She dug her fingers into the warm sand, her sketch forgotten, knowing she must go before she saw something she had no right to see—but she was unable to move, absurdly paralyzed.

Hilary’s throaty laughter sounded. Sofie eyes widened. Hilary slowly unbuttoned her pin-striped jacket.

He wondered if he was growing old before his time—he was certainly too old for this. Africa had not solely been responsible for jading him, but it had certainly convinced him that life’s comforts were worth waiting for. He had no intention of fornicating in the sand when cool, clean sheets would be available later. Besides, Hilary Stewart had only left his bed a few hours ago.

BOOK: After Innocence
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