Daring to dream, p.19
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       Daring to Dream, p.19

         Part #1 of Dream series by Nora Roberts
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  "Was everywhere. No, I don't mind."

  "I switched to the Bella Donna line of skin-care products primarily because of your advertisements."

  She winced before she could prevent herself. "I hope you're satisfied with the products."

  "It's an excellent line. As I said, I came in because I wanted to see you in person. I'll come back because you have beautiful things imaginatively presented." She slid the bag onto her arm as she stepped back from the counter. "I think you're a very brave and adventurous woman." Mrs. Pendleton flicked a glance toward Candy, who was frowning over a paperweight. "And an admirable one." She leaned back over the counter, her eyes dancing. "Make sure that one doesn't stick something in that Chanel bag of hers. She looks shifty."

  Chuckling, Margo waved her now favorite customer off and walked over to deal with Candy. "Champagne?"

  "Oh, such a clever idea. I imagine the offer of free drinks lures in a certain type of clientele. Just a tiny glass. How are you managing, darling?"

  "Well enough."

  "I was just admiring your jewelry." Coveting it. "It must be heartbreaking for you to have to sell it."

  "My heart's cold steel, Candy, remember?"

  "When it comes to men," Candy said breezily and turned to the jewelry case. "But diamonds? I wouldn't think so. What did you have to do for those earrings?"

  "Things better not spoken of in polite company. Would you like to see them? Considering your last divorce settlement, they're within your price range. Unless, of course, dumping a husband doesn't earn a woman what it used to."

  "Don't be snide, Margo. You're the one peddling your wares. And no, I'm not interested in secondhand jewelry. In fact, I'm having a hard time finding anything I can use at all. Your taste is more… let's say, emancipated than mine."

  "Not enough gold leaf? I'll be sure to keep your taste in mind when we restock."

  "You're actually planning on keeping this place running?" She sipped her champagne and giggled. "Margo, that's so sweet. Everyone knows you never finish anything. A few of us were having a wonderful time over brunch at the club, speculating on how long you'd last."

  The customer, Margo thought, was not always right. "Candy, do you remember that time all your clothes were stolen from gym class and you were shoved into a locker and stayed trapped in there until Mr. Hansen from Maintenance sawed off the lock and got you out, naked and hysterical? You, not Mr. Hansen."

  Candy's eyes narrowed to lethal slits. "You. I knew it was you, but I couldn't prove it."

  "Actually it was Kate, because I lost the draw. But it was my idea. Except for calling Mr. Hansen. That was Laura's. Now would you like to leave quietly, or should I knock you down, rip off that Laura Ashley blouse—which doesn't suit you, by the way—and send you out of here naked and hysterical?"

  "To think I actually felt sorry for you."

  "No, you didn't," Margo corrected, nipping the flute out of Candy's hand before it could be hurled.

  "You're nothing but a second-rate slut who spent all her life begging for scraps and pretending to be something she never could be," Candy spat out.

  "Funny, most people consider me a first-rate slut. Now get the hell out of here before I stop pretending to be what I'm not and rip off the nose your parents bought you when you were twelve."

  Candy shrieked, curled her fingers into talons. She might have leaped, but the sound of the door opening stopped her from making a public display.

  One brow lifted, Laura assessed the scene. "Hello, Candy, you're looking healthy. Sorry I'm late, Margo, but I brought you a present."

  Candy whirled, intending to give Laura a taste of the temper both of her ex-husbands could attest to. But Laura wasn't alone. Candy shuddered back the venom and beamed a delighted smile.

  "Mr. and Mrs. Templeton—how wonderful to see you both."

  "Ah, Candace Lichfield, isn't it?" said Susan Templeton, knowing full well. "Margo." Easily ignoring Candy's outstretched hand, Susan glided into Margo's open arms. She kissed both of Margo's cheeks lavishly, then winked. "We didn't even take time to unpack. We just couldn't wait to see you."

  "I've missed you." She clung hard, enveloped by the familiar scent of Chanel. "Oh, I've missed you. You look wonderful, beautiful."

  "Doesn't give me the time of day," Thomas Templeton complained, giving his daughter's shoulder a quick squeeze. He nodded absently to Candy as she stalked out, then grinned as Margo raced across the room. She bounded into his arms. "Now that's more like it."

  "I'm so glad to see you. I'm so glad you're here. Oh, I'm so sorry." And she buried her face in his shoulder and wept like a child.

  Chapter Fourteen

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  "Mmm." Leaning over the sink in the upstairs bath, Margo splashed water on her face. "I guess I've been a little on edge."

  "Nothing like a good cry to smooth out those edges." Susan offered her a fingertip towel and a quick, supportive rub on the shoulder. "And you always cried well."

  "Poor Mr. T." As much for comfort as to dry her skin, Margo buried her face in the towel. "What a greeting. Two seconds and I'm blubbering all over his shoulder."

  "He loves having his girls blubber on him. It makes him feel strong. Now—" Susan put her ring-studded hands on Margo's shoulders, turned her around. "Let's have a look." She pursed her pretty mouth, narrowed her pale blue eyes. "A

  little blush, a couple coats of mascara, and you'll do. Do you have your arsenal up here?"

  In answer, Margo opened the mirror cabinet over the sink. Inside were neatly arranged bottles and tubes. "Emergency kit."

  "That's my girl. Still using Bella Donna," she commented when Margo took out a small tube. "I threw mine out."

  "Oh, Mrs. T."

  "They made me mad." Susan jerked an athletic shoulder. She was a small woman, delicate-boned and slim like her daughter. She kept in shape in her own style. She skied like a demon, played a vicious game of tennis, and swam laps as though competing in the Olympics. To fit her lifestyle, her sable-colored hair was cut short and sleek to cap a bright, interesting face that she cared for religiously.

  "I screwed up," Margo reminded her.

  "Which was hardly enough cause to dump you as the Bella Donna Woman. Which is an irritatingly redundant title in the first place. All in all, you're better off without them."

  Margo smiled into the mirror, smoothed on a light base. "I really have missed you."

  "What I'd like to know is why you didn't contact Tommy and me the minute you found out you were in trouble." With her hands on her hips, Susan strode to the tub, then back to the sink. "It was weeks before we heard a thing. The photographic safari kept us out of touch, but Josh and Laura knew how to reach us."

  "I was ashamed." She couldn't explain why she could admit it so easily to Susan. She just could. "I'd made such bad choices. I was having a seedy affair with a married man, I let him use me. No, worse—I was too stupid to realize he was using me. I ruined my career, destroyed what little reputation I had, and nearly bankrupted myself in the process."

  "Well." Susan angled her head. "That's quite an accom plishment. How busy you must have been to do all that by yourself."

  "I did do it myself." She chose taupe shadow to accent her eyes, brushing it on with a deft and practiced hand.

  "This man you were involved with had nothing to do with it, I suppose. Did you love him?"

  "I wanted to." Even that was easier to admit now. "I wanted to have someone, to find someone I could build a life with. The kind of life I thought I wanted. Fun, games, and no responsibilities."

  "And that's past tense?"

  "It is. Has to be." Margo carefully darkened her eyebrows. "Naturally, I chose someone completely inappropriate, someone who could never offer me permanence. That's my system, Mrs. T."

  Susan waited a moment, watching as Margo dashed on eyeliner and mascara with the skill of a master. "Do you know what's always worried me about you, Margo? Your self-esteem.

  "Mum always said I thought too much of myself."

  "No, on that Annie and I have always disagreed, and we disagreed rarely. Your self-worth is too tied up in your looks. You were a beautiful child, dazzlingly beautiful. Life is different for children with dazzling looks. More difficult in some ways, because people tend to judge them by their beauty, and then they begin to judge themselves by that same standard."

  "It was my only skill. Kate had the brains, Laura had the heart."

  "It makes me sad that you believe that, and that too many people pointed you in that direction."

  "You were never one of them." She replaced the makeup carefully, as a master carpenter would store his tools. "I'm trying to go in a new direction now, Mrs. T."

  "Well, then." Slipping a bolstering arm around Margo's waist, Susan led her back into the boudoir. "You're young enough to take a dozen different directions. And smart enough. You've wasted your brains for a while, made foolish mistakes and poorly considered choices."

  "Ow." With a sheepish smile, Margo rubbed her heart. "You've always been able to sneak those jabs in."

  "I haven't finished. You've worried and disappointed your mother. A woman, I'll add, who deserves not only your love and respect but your admiration. There aren't many who at the tender age of twenty-three and still grieving could leave behind everything familiar and cross an ocean with a small child to build a new life. But that's not the point." Susan waved that away and nudged Margo onto the edge of the bed. "You squandered your money and danced your way to the edge of a very high and dangerous cliff. But," she lifted Margo's chin with a finger, "you didn't jump. Unlike our little Seraphina, you stepped back, you squared your shoulders, and you showed you were willing to face what life had dealt you. That takes more courage, Margo—much more—than leaping into the void."

  "I had people to turn to."

  "So do we all. It's only fools and egotists who think no one will be there to lend a hand. And bigger fools and bigger egotists who don't reach out." She held out a hand. Without hesitation Margo took it, then pressed it to her cheek.

  "Better?" Laura asked in an echo of her mother as she came to the door. It took only an instant to survey the scene and feel relief.

  "Much." After a long breath, Margo rose, smoothed down her skirt. "Sorry to leave you in the lurch down there."

  "No problem. Actually, Dad's having the time of his life. He's made three sales. And the way he's charming Minn Whiley right now, I think we can count on four."

  "Minn's downstairs?" Amused, Susan flicked her fingers through her boyish hair. "I'll go add my charm. She'll walk out loaded down with bags and won't know what hit her." She paused at the doorway to rub a hand over Laura's back. "You girls have a lovely place here. You've made a good choice."

  "We're worrying her," Laura murmured when her mother's greeting to Minn floated upstairs. "You and I."

  "I know. We'll just have to show her how tough we are. We are tough, aren't we, Laura?"

  "Oh, sure. You bet. The disgraced celebrity and the betrayed trophy wife."

  Temper snapped into Margo's eyes. "You're nobody's trophy."

  "Not anymore. Now, before I forget—why was Candy looking at me as if she was hoping to grind up my liver for pate?"

  "Ah." Remembering the scene put a sneaky smile on her face. "I had to tell her whose idea it was to call Mr. Hansen when she was trapped naked in her locker."

  Laura closed her eyes, tried not to think of the next meeting of the Garden Club. She and Candy were co-chairs. "Had to tell her?"

  "Really had to." Margo smiled winningly. "She called you 'poor Laura.' Twice."

  Laura opened her eyes again, set her teeth. "I see. I wonder how difficult it would be to stuff her bony butt into a locker at the club?"

  "For tough babes like you and me? A snap."

  "I'll think about it." Automatically she checked her watch. Her life now ran on packets of time. "Meanwhile, we're having a family dinner tonight. A real one this time. Kate's meeting us at the house, and I left a message for Josh."

  "Ah, Josh." As they started for the stairs, Margo linked her fingers together, pulled them apart. Wished desperately for a cigarette. "There's probably something I should tell you."

  "Mmm-hmm. Look, Margo." Chuckling, she leaned on the rail. "Dad's playing with the cash register and Mama's packing boxes. Aren't they wonderful?"

  "The best." How could she tell Laura she'd spent the night ripping up the sheets at Templeton Monterey with her brother? Better left alone, she decided. In any case, the way they had parted, it was unlikely to happen again.

  "What did you want to tell me?"

  "Um… only that I sold your beaded white sheath."

  "Good. I never liked it anyway."

  Margo felt she'd made the right decision when Josh arrived at Templeton House. He joined the family in the solarium, exchanged warm embraces with both his parents, then helped himself from the hors d'oeuvres tray. He entertained his nieces, argued with Kate over some esoteric point of tax law, and fetched mineral water for Laura.

  As for the woman with whom he'd spent the night committing acts that were still illegal in some states, he treated her with the absent, vaguely infuriating affection older brothers reserved for their pesky younger siblings.

  She thought about stabbing him in the throat with a shrimp fork.

  She restrained herself, even when she was plunked down between him and Kate at the glossy mahogany table at dinner.

  It was, after all, a celebration, she reminded herself. A reunion. Even Ann, who considered it a breach of etiquette for servants to sit at the family table, had been cajoled into joining in. Mr. T.'s doing, Margo thought. No one, particularly if it was a female, could say no to him.

  Surely part of Josh's problem was that he resembled his father so closely. Thomas Templeton was as tall and lean as he'd been in his youth. The man Margo had frankly adored for twenty-five years had aged magnificently. The lines that unfairly made a woman look worn added class and appeal as they crinkled around his smoky gray eyes. His hair was still thick and full, with the added dash of glints of silver brushed through the bronze.

  He had, she knew, a smile that could charm the petals off a rose. And when roused, a flinty, unblinking stare that chilled to the bone. He used both to run his business, and his family, and with them he incited devotion, unswerving love, and just a little healthy fear.

  It was rumored that he had cut a wide, successful, and memorable swath through the ladies in his youth, romancing, seducing, and conquering at will. Until thirty, when he'd been introduced to a young Susan Conway. She had, in her own words, hunted him down like a dog and bagged him.

  Margo smiled, listening to him build stories for his goggle-eyed granddaughters of herds of elephants and prides of lions.

  "We have the Lion King video, Granddaddy." Kayla toyed with her Brussels sprouts, hoping a miracle would make them disappear.

  "You've watched it a zillion times," Ali said, tossing her hair back in the way she'd seen Margo do.

  "Well, we'll have to make it a zillion and one, won't we?" Thomas winked at Kayla. "We'll have ourselves a moviethon. What's your favorite video, Ali?"

  "She likes to watch kissy movies." Striking back, Kayla pursed her lips and made smacking noises. "She wants Brandon Reno to kiss her on the mouth."

  "I do not." Mortified, Ali flushed scarlet. It proved there was no secret safe with a little sister. "You're just a baby." She dug for her deepest insult. "A baby pig-face."

  "Allison, don't call your sister names," Laura said wearily. Her two little angels had been sniping at each other for weeks.

  "Oh, and she can say whatever she wants. Just because she's the baby."

  "I am not a baby."

  "I thought you were my baby." Thomas sighed sadly. "I thought you were both my babies, but I guess if you're all grown up and don't need me anymore…"

  "I'll be your baby, Granddaddy." Eyes wide and sincere, Kayla gazed up at him. Then she
saw, to her delight, that a miracle had happened. The dreaded Brussels sprouts were gone from her plate. They'd made the leap to his. Love swarmed through her. "I'll always be your baby."

  "Well, I'm not a baby." Far from ready to surrender, Ali jutted out her chin. But her lip was quivering.

  "No, I suppose you're not." Laura cocked a brow at her daughter's mutinous face. "And since you're not, you won't fight with your sister at the table."

  "Oh, I don't know." Margo picked up her wineglass. The fairy light of crystal chandeliers and flickering candlelight shot through it in red and gold glints. "I always fought with Kate at the table."

  "And you usually started it," Kate added, forking up a bite of lamb.

  "You always started it."

  "No, I always finished it." Kate peered around Josh to grin. "You always got sent to your room."

  "Only because Mum felt sorry for you. You were so outgunned."

  "Outgunned, my butt. When it came to a verbal showdown, you were always playing with blanks. Even when I was Ali's age, I could—"

  "Isn't it nice to be home, Tommy?" Susan lifted her glass in a toast. "It's so comforting to see that no matter how life goes on, little changes. Annie, dear, how are you managing all our girls without me?"

  "It's a trial, Mrs. T. Now, my ma, she kept a switch in the kitchen. A good hickory switch."

  War forgotten, Ali gaped at Ann. "Your mother hit you with a stick?"

  "Once or twice she did indeed, and sitting down after was a punishment itself. Mostly just seeing it there on the peg by the door was enough to keep a civil tongue in your head."

  "Your weapon of choice was a wooden spoon." Remembering, Margo shifted in her seat.

  "A fine deterrent it was to a sassy mouth, too."

  "You walloped me once with it, Annie, remember?" It was Josh who spoke.

  "Really?" Intrigued, Susan studied her son. "I never heard about that."

  Josh sampled his wine and watched Ann squirm out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, Annie and I decided it would be our little secret."

  "And so it has been," Annie muttered. "Until now." She cleared her throat, dropped her hands into her lap. "I beg your pardon, Mrs. T. It was hardly my place to spank the boy."

  "What nonsense." Intrigued, Susan leaned forward. "I want to know what he did to deserve it."

  "I might have been innocent," Josh objected, to which his mother merely snorted.

  "You never had an innocent day in your life. What did he do, Annie?"

  "He'd been hounding me." Even after all the years that had passed, Ann could remember the insistence in his voice, the demon in his eye. "I tell you the truth, I've never known a child so tenacious as Master Josh. He could devil you beyond-death, and that's the truth."

  "Persistence." He grinned at Annie, then glanced at his father. "It's a trait of the Templeton males, right, Dad?"

  "And plenty the times I earned a warm rear end because of it," Thomas agreed.

  "I'd love to hear about Josh's." Margo tipped back her glass, sent him a smoldering look. "In fact, I'm dying to. How many whacks did you give him, Mum?"

  "I didn't count. It was—"

  "I did. Five. In rapid and shocking succession." He met Margo's look sneer for sneer. "I still say it was Margo's fault."

  "Mine? Oh, that's so typical."

  "He was teasing you unmercifully," Ann put in. "And picking on Miss Laura. And as Miss Kate had just come to us, he had a new target there. He was twelve, I believe, and acting like a bully."

  "It was just high spirits," Josh claimed. "And I still say Margo—"

  "Four years your junior," Ann said in a tone that made him feel twelve again. "And you, who should have known better, daring her and the other girls to clamber down those cliffs looking for that foolish treasure chest. Calling them names, too. And going out there after I'd told you to stay in the yard with them for one blessed hour. One blessed hour," she repeated, shrinking him with a look, "so I
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