Authors: Jean Stone
Also by Jean Stone
SINS OF INNOCENCE
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1996 by Jean Stone
The Rose of Blacksword
by Rexanne Becnel copyright © 1992 by Rexanne Becnel.
Tender, Loving Cure
by Gayle Kasper copyright © 1994 by Gayle Kasper.
by Adrienne Staff copyright © 1994 by Adrienne Staff.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
LOVESWEPT and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1996.
Cover design: Regina Starace
Cover image © G Fletcher/Gettyimages (garden scene); © Datacraft Co Ltd/Gettyimages (Hydrangeas)
eBook eISBN: 978-0-307-79872-5
For Wendy McCurdy—
who still believes in princesses
who believes in great titles
and Lucky Eddie—
who believes in me.
Jenny knew she was being punished. Her eyes throbbed from the band of cloth bound tightly around them; her mouth was filled with the taste of dirty cotton; her wrists burned behind her where they were roped together, fastened to the cold, wooden chair on which she sat.
Jenny knew she was being punished, but she didn’t know why. She wanted to cry, but fourteen was too old to cry. She wished her breath would stop coming in short little gasps.
“I’ll be back with food,” came the cold, gravelly voice.
She had no idea where she was. She only knew that she’d been forced down some stairs, and that it smelled dank and musty, like crumbling old bricks, like rotten leaves and dead things.
It smelled like the wine cellar back home. But Jenny knew she was a long way from home.
She heard the footsteps move away, then fade in slow, ascending steps. A lump rose in her throat as silence flooded the room. Her shoulders started to tremble. She did not know what she had done wrong. She never knew what she had done wrong. And though her parents never hit her, rarely even raised their voices, somehow Jenny felt the same now as she had so many times before:
She knew she was being punished.
From deep inside her a single word formed and tried to cry its way to the surface, but it got stuck somewhere within
the dirty cotton strip that pinched her lips. Jenny bent her head.
, her heart called out, but no one, as usual, was listening.
Charlie Hobart packed the suitcase, unsure whether she should feel happy or sad. Peter’s overbearing mother was dead—reason, certainly, to celebrate—but Jenny would be leaving tomorrow to visit Tess. The absence of her fourteen-year-old daughter always unsettled Charlie and evoked more than a little guilt.
She sighed and tucked a pouch of maxipads into the inside pocket. Though Jenny was mature for her age, Charlie still worried when she went off to visit Tess: Tess, after all, had no children, not even a husband. And though Charlie knew, from their years together at college, that Tess was able to take care of herself, she wondered if her long-ago friend was capable of looking after another human being. The summers Jenny spent with Tess still had not quelled Charlie’s fears, for, at thirty-seven years of age, Tess had seemingly forever dodged responsibility, sequestered in her glassblowing studio, doing God only knew what. Yet Jenny loved her “aunt” Tess, loved spending summers with her in Massachusetts. And Jenny’s absence enabled Charlie and Peter to come and go as they pleased—to the Hamptons, to Newport, to the Berkshires. So far, they had all survived the arrangement.
“Don’t you think Jenny’s old enough to do that?”
Charlie closed the lid on the suitcase. She didn’t turn toward her husband’s voice in the doorway. “I’m making sure she has everything she needs.”
“Tom Williamson is in the library. He’s here to go over Mother’s will.”
Charlie crossed her arms and looked out the window of her daughter’s bedroom, across the rolling, lush grounds of
the Hudson Valley estate. Jenny, Charlie knew, would not miss Peter’s mother either. The woman had a subtle, yet distinct way of informing Jenny that she didn’t measure up to Hobart quality. Charlie knew the feeling.
“I’ll be down in a minute,” she said.
She heard Peter’s footsteps retreat and wondered what was going through his mind. Terror, probably, mixed with mounds of insecurity. Many offspring of a matriarch such as Elizabeth Hobart might feel tremendous relief at her death. They might languish in the release of such a heavy, dark burden. They might, at last, find peace.
She wondered if Peter would. Peter had been overly dependent on his mother. After his father’s death when Peter was six, he watched as his mother lorded over the family’s textile mills with the determination and fortitude of a man, in an era when only men were allowed to show such strength. He watched, and he labored to master his legacy. Yet along the way, Peter had acquiesced, becoming another of his mother’s people-possessions, to be ruled, molded, and manipulated. Charlie feared that despite Elizabeth’s death, the woman would remain in control.
In all these years, the only time Peter had wavered from his mother’s wishes was when he married Charlie—unacceptable, undeserving Charlene O’Brien, from a working-class family of eight, from Pittsburgh, of all places. But Elizabeth apparently had determined that living with Charlie’s background was preferable to living without her son, especially when Peter and Charlie arrived at the Hobart manor from college with a marriage certificate in one hand and a crying infant in the other. Elizabeth Hobart had gritted her teeth and let them in. And Charlie—and Jenny—had been paying for it ever since.
Maybe now things would change, if not for Peter, then at least for herself. And Jenny.
Charlie turned back to the suitcase and slowly closed the lid. She was, she knew, procrastinating going downstairs. Even after all these years, Charlie still wasn’t comfortable with brandy and stiff chatter and the hard Victorian settee in Elizabeth Hobart’s library. Even after all these years Charlie would have preferred jeans and sweatshirts, and curling her legs underneath herself on lumpy, overstuffed cushions. She wondered if Peter knew that, or if he had, instead, chosen to
believe that Charlie enjoyed her leading role as dutiful wife, society lady, the role she had worked so hard to win, to cultivate, then play out so well.
She stooped to check her hair in the mirror of Jenny’s dressing table, to be sure that no golden-brown loose strands had escaped the big gold clip at the nape of her neck. But as she caught her reflection, Charlie ignored her newly rinsed hair and looked instead into her eyes, eyes that had once been bright blue, but now seemed to have lost their enthusiasm, their zest. Age, she suspected, had done that. Age, motherhood, and Elizabeth Hobart. A small spark of excitement tingled through her. Now that the woman was dead, maybe Charlie would begin to live. Maybe she could stop playacting at being a woman she wasn’t. Maybe she could finally become the woman she was meant to be. Whoever that was.
She glanced at the photos inside the edge of Jenny’s mirror, neatly clipped magazine photos of scary-looking rock groups with unfamiliar names, and a photo of Jenny herself—thick-dark-haired, huge-eyed Jenny—crouched beside a shaggy beige-colored dog, Tess’s dog. In the picture, Jenny was smiling. Charlie realized it had been a long time since she saw her pensive daughter smile. Perhaps it was the company of the dog that brought out that beautiful smile; perhaps it was because the photo had been taken last summer when Jenny was with Tess.