Authors: Leslie Kelly
Copyright © 2015 Leslie Kelly
llen Devane hadn’t
been dubbed the “steel-spined lipstick queen of the U.S.” for nothing. A
reporter had coined the phrase decades ago, at the height of her career, and she’d never shaken it off. In fact, she’d always rather fancied it.
In those days, she’d been the undisputed champion of the cosmetic wars that had escalated during the sexual revolution. Hollywood had taken her advice throughout the fifties, and the
girls had made her an icon of the seventies. Burn your bra and thicken your eyelashes—that had been Ellen’s battle cry.
She’d crawled out from behind the Gimbel’s makeup counter into her own million-dollar, Manhattan-based company by age thirty. Fresh Face Cosmetics had been her entire life, and she’d never looked back or second-guessed the choices she’d made. Never.
Not after Rex, the first and only man she’d ever truly loved, had tired of her constant need for more and married someone else. Not after the sad end of her own all-too-brief marriage to another man who’d always known he was her second choice. Not after watching her sons battle each other for control over her empire when she’d retired twenty years ago. Not even after the crushing sense of loss she’d felt when she’d learned Rex had died at much too young an age. She’d stayed strong and resolute, a powerhouse—the lipstick queen—throughout it all.
So why, goodness, gracious,
had she suddenly gone soft?
“Cassandra’s miserably unhappy, you know.” She blew on the surface of her steaming tea, taking off a bit of the heat. Bringing the Sevres porcelain cup to her lips, she sipped lightly, then eyed Patricia, her daughter-in-law. Her older son’s wife was, as usual, impeccably dressed, but her perfectly made-up face was noticeably pale and tight lines were evident around her lips.
“I know,” Patricia replied. “Do you think I don’t know my own child?” Lurching to her feet, she swayed on the slender heels of her Italian leather pumps. “I rue the day I encouraged her to fight for CEO when Larry stepped down last year.”
“It isn’t her
” Ellen snapped with an impatient shake of her head. “It’s her…her…”
“Her love life?”
life,” Ellen replied. “Her inability to fall in love with anyone is just a symptom. The girl has changed. She’s not the funny, mischievous child who brought light and laughter into this house. She’s turned into a corporate drone by day.” Her gaze fell upon a pile of tabloid magazines scattered across her dressing table. “And an international playgirl by night.”
The images of her sweet grandchild splashed across the trashy magazines wouldn’t leave Ellen’s mind. Nor would the starkness that had replaced the warmth in Cassandra’s eyes.
Empty eyes. Eyes devoid of passion and emotion. Eyes that said she would never let anyone get close enough to hurt her, that she would focus only on all the things Ellen, herself, had once deemed more important than anything. Or anyone.
Funny, at the age of eighty-four, she certainly didn’t long for one more product meeting or one more power play in the boardroom. She wished, instead, to feel once again the warmth of a strong hand cupping her cheek with tenderness. Or to inhale the familiar, spicy scent of a male cologne on the pillow beside hers. Or to hear the laughter of her sons running through the yard.
They were simple things. Gentle things. Things she’d scorned or taken for granted.
Her mood darkening, she acknowledged one more truth: these were things Cassandra was never going to experience if she didn’t chip away the shell she’d allowed to encase her.
“She’s capable of loving,” Patricia murmured, gazing out the window to the south lawn. “I believe she loved very much once.”
Something in her daughter-in-law’s voice made Ellen lower her cup and saucer. Staring hard at her son’s wife, she asked in her best no-nonsense voice, “What are you talking about?”
And, as if she’d merely been waiting for the opportunity, Patricia told her the whole sad, sorry truth—a truth Ellen’s family had kept hidden from her for eight long years.
It boggled the mind. But the story explained so much. No wonder her granddaughter had grown cold. Wasn’t she, after all, following exactly in her grandmother’s footsteps?
By God, she would
“How long were they married?”
“Less than a year. It was when you were so ill and had your surgery, which was why we thought it best…” Obviously seeing the tightness in Ellen’s jaw, Patricia fell silent.
They’d thought it best to hide the fact that her only granddaughter had run away at the age of twenty to marry a boy she’d met during a vacation in Florida. And had been divorced from him less than twelve months later.
Lord in heaven, everything made sense now. Why Cassandra had changed from a sweetly thoughtful, smiling young woman, who’d loved books, the sea and black jelly beans, to the tabloids’ second-favorite flavor of the month after that Miley Cyrus child. She’d thought it was simply college that had brought about the change. Now she knew it was much more serious.
Ellen couldn’t bear it. “Leave me,” she barked, hoping Patricia hadn’t heard the shakiness in her voice.
Once alone, she reached for her telephone. Ellen’s body might have given up on her, but her brain was every bit as sharp today as it had been when she’d argued with Alberto de Rossi over Elizabeth Taylor’s skin tone during the filming of
Dialing the number of a private investigator she’d used on more than one occasion, she related the details Patricia had revealed. The P.I. would find out everything he could about the man Cassandra had loved, this Wyatt Reston. Where he was, what he’d done with his life. If he was as heartbroken as her granddaughter.
And once she had the answers she sought, she would figure out how to save her beloved granddaughter from the fate Ellen had long endured:
A lifetime of regrets.
’m sorry to
have to tell you this, child, but it’s true. Due to a mix-up in the attorney’s office, your divorce papers were never filed. You are still legally married.”
Cassandra Devane never drank during the day, and certainly never in front of her elderly grandmother. But after the woman’s announcement sank into her brain, her instinctive reaction was to get up from the sofa, walk over to the bar in her office, and pour herself a scotch on the rocks. Because of the way her hand shook, it ended up being a double. Or maybe that was just because her world was shaking.
She gulped the drink, counted to ten, drew deep calming breaths. Eventually, she felt calm enough to turn and face the matriarch of the family. “That can’t be right.”
“I’m afraid it is.” Ellen sipped her tea. “It appears everything was done quickly and quietly, and mistakes were made.”
Cassandra took her seat across from the frail-looking woman. “I didn’t even know you were aware of my…folly.”
“I wasn’t, until recently.” Her expression disappointed, the elderly woman continued. “You could have told me, dear.”
“You were so sick.”
“Not every day for the past eight years I wasn’t,” the tart and tough Ellen replied.
Cassandra sighed heavily. “I suppose I was ashamed.”
“You feared I’d think less of you because you fell in love?”
“No,” she mused. “Because I botched it so badly.”
Ellen’s stance softened and she took one of Cassie’s hands, squeezing gently. “The very fact that you tried and failed gives me hope that you will find love again. I had feared the little girl who so loved fairy tales would never even try to find her own happily ever after.”
“I don’t believe in them anymore,” she mumbled. Yes,
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
had once been her favorite story. Now, she couldn’t imagine why. How moronic to hook up with some horny prince who went around kissing dead chicks in the woods. The necrophilia rumors alone would have been bad enough to live down, not to mention the shacking-up-with-seven-men thing. “I grew up.”
Most definitely. Fairy-tale fantasies had been left far behind. Along with a lot of other things, like romantic dreams and expectations. Even, perhaps, a bit of her optimism.
Jesus, was it really possible? Was she still legally married to someone who’d made it very clear he never wanted to lay eyes on her again? What if Wyatt had remarried—was he a bigamist? This was beyond any nightmare she’d ever envisioned when she’d received her grandmother’s message to come see her at once. To think, she’d just been worried about getting called on the carpet for her latest run-in with the paparazzi, who had decided to paint her as this generation’s Paris Hilton, never mind the fact that Cassandra ran a multimillion dollar, international company, and had embarrassed herself in public no more than any other twenty-eight year old, single woman.
“Well, dear, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your choices.” Ellen sat back on her chair, crossing her ankles. “Before decisions are taken out of your hands.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your cousin, Harold…”
Cassandra groaned, not wanting to hear the rest, knowing she had to. “What about him?”
“He has approached a few of the board members, claiming you are unfit to run the company because of your, er, reputation.”
“And I suppose
Fresh Face Cosmetics
, which appeals to young, trendy women, should be run by a forty-year-old mama’s boy who’s never had a girlfriend in his life?” Cassandra snapped, furious at her cousin. More furious at herself for having given him any leverage.