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Up Close And Personal

Fern Michaels

ISBN 9780821779569
Publish Date 3/31/2009
Format Paperback
Categories Women's Fiction, Zebra, Fern Michaels

In Up Close and Personal, New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels creates one extraordinary family who shows us the power of the loves we find, the loves we lose, and the ones we carry with us always…

For generations, the Windsors have lived on the family’s grand estate in Crestwood, South Carolina, as intertwined with local life as sweet tea and pecan pie. Now, on the anniversary of her daughter Emily’s death, Sarabess Windsor believes she may be the last to carry the family name—unless she can find her second daughter, Trinity, who disappeared fifteen years ago. But the town has never forgotten her…especially not handsome lawyer Jake Forrest.

Trinity swore never to return to Crestwood. But some ties—to a place, to a past, to the people we once were and dreams we once had—can never be fully broken. And as family secrets are revealed, and desires old and new come to light, Trinity may discover the one thing she never expected to find in Crestwood: a place to call home at last.

“Tirelessly inventive and entertaining.” —Booklist

“Readers will root for the plucky heroine and her childhood friend Jake.” —Publishers Weekly

Chapter One

It was a beautiful summer day, but the agitated woman pacing and kneading her hands barely noticed. Warm, golden sunshine flooded the sunroom where she was pacing, doing its best to warm the trembling woman. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t avoid the gallery of pictures that lined one wall. She knew she shouldn’t have come here this morning, of all days. Yet she’d carried her coffee cup in with the intention of sitting on one of the rattan chairs. Not to think. Never to think. She knew it was impossible, but she’d come anyway. The sunroom had been Emily’s favorite room in the whole house.

Once this room had held a life-size giraffe, easels, paints, brushes, a blackboard and pastel chalks, a television, a pink polka-dotted sleeping bag with the name EMILY embroidered across the front in huge, white silky letters. An oversize toy box, also with the name EMILY stenciled on it, was stuffed with animals and assorted toys. Deep, comfortable furniture suitable for a sickly little girl had been covered in all the colors of the rainbow, just waiting for her to sit or lie down with her storybooks.

Once, a long time ago, a hundred years ago, a lifetime ago, this had been Emily’s favorite room. Before she had become bedridden.

Tears puddled up in Sarabess Windsor’s eyes. Why had she come in here? She looked around for her coffee cup. She reached for it and sipped the cold brew. Okay, she’d had some coffee. Now it was time to leave. But could she walk out of this room today? Of course she could. She had to.

Sarabess looked at herself in the mirror that hung on the back of the door leading into a small lavatory. She’d taken exceptional pains with her dress. She was wearing her grandmother’s pearls, her mother’s pearl earrings, and a mint-green linen dress that so far was unwrinkled. If she sat down, it would wrinkle. She wanted to look put together when Rifkin Forrest arrived, and part of that put- together look did not include tears. Every silky gray hair was in place. Her makeup was flawless; her unshed tears hadn’t destroyed her mascara. Just because she was sixty didn’t mean she had to look sixty. The last time he’d been to the house, Rif had told her she didn’t look a day over fifty. Rif always said kind things. Rif said kind things because he’d loved her forever.

Sarabess turned around at the door, seeing the sunroom as it was. Other than the gallery of pictures, all traces of Emily were gone. Now the room held rattan furniture covered with a bright- colored fabric. Dozens of green plants and young trees could be seen through the wall-to-wall windows. Overhead, two paddle fans whirred softly. A wet bar sat in one corner. She was the only one who ever came into this room. Once a year on this date she unlocked the door, walked into the room, and allowed herself ten minutes to grieve. Most times she cried for the rest of the day. For weeks afterward she wasn’t herself. Still, she put herself through it because she didn’t want to forget. As if a mother could ever forget the death of her child.

Sarabess closed and locked the door. Maybe she would never go into the room again. Maybe she should think about moving away. But she did not see how she could. Emily was buried here in the family mausoleum. She could never leave her firstborn. Why did she even think it was a possibility? Then there was Mitzi Granger lurking on the fringe of her life. Even Rif couldn’t do anything about squirrelly Mitzi. Something had to be done about Mitzi.

The Windsors had lived on Windsor Hill in Crestwood, South Carolina, for hundreds of years. She was the last of the Windsors, though only by marriage. Then again, maybe she wasn’t the last of the Windsors. She would have to wait for time to give her an answer.

As the mistress of Windsor Hill walked down the hallway toward the heavy beveled-glass front door, she realized she’d left her coffee cup in the sunroom. Well, it would have to stay there for another year. Or, until she felt brave enough to unlock the door and enter the room that was simply too full of memories. At the end of the hallway, she opened the door and walked out onto the verandah. She looked around as though seeing it for the very first time. She was surprised to see that the gardener had hung the giant ferns, cleaned the wicker furniture, laid down new fiber rugs, and arranged the clay pots of colorful petunias and geraniums. Even the six paddle fans had been cleaned and waxed.

How was it possible she hadn’t noticed? Because she was so wrapped up in herself, that was why. She tried to remember the last time she’d sat out here with a glass of lemonade. When she couldn’t come up with any answer, she started to pace the long verandah, which wrapped around the entire house. Where was Rifkin? She looked down at her diamond-studded watch. He was ten minutes late. Rif was never late. Never. She wondered if his lateness was an omen of things to come.

For the first time since getting up, she was aware of the golden June day as she stared out at the Windsor grounds. Once the endless fields had produced cotton and tobacco. Now, they produced watermelons, pumpkins, and tomatoes that were shipped coast to coast. The acres of pecan trees went on as far as the eye could see. The pecans, too, were shipped all over the country. On the lowest plateau of the hill, cows grazed, hence the Windsor Dairy. Horses trotted in their paddock. There was a time when she’d been an accomplished horsewoman. Once there had been a pony named Beauty and a little red cart that carried Emily around the yard. Just like Emily, they were gone, too.

Sarabess heard the powerful engine then. She looked down at her watch once more. Twenty-three minutes late. What would be Rif ’s excuse this fine Monday morning? Did it even matter? He was here now.

When the Mercedes stopped in front of the steps leading to the verandah, Sarabess waved a greeting before she rang the little bell on one of the tables next to a wicker chair—Martha’s signal that she should serve coffee on the verandah. Sarabess walked back to the top of the steps to wait for Rif ’s light kiss on her cheek. She smiled when she realized there was to be no explanation as to why he was late. Rif hated to make explanations. It was the lawyer in him. She motioned to one of the chairs and sat down across from the attorney.

He was tall and tanned from the golf course. His hair was gunmetal gray. His eyes were sharp and summer blue and crinkled at the corners when he smiled. She loved it when he smiled at her. An intimate smile, she thought. Because he was semiretired, Rif felt no need for a three-piece suit on his days off. He was dressed in creased khakis and a bright yellow T-shirt. His only concession to his profession was the briefcase he was never without. He dropped it next to his chair before sitting down. His voice was deep and pleasant when he said, “You’re looking particularly fine this morning, Sarabess.”

“Why thank you, counselor. You look rather fit yourself this fine morning. Are you playing golf today?”

“Unless you have something important you need taken care of. You sounded . . . urgent when you called.”

“It’s time, Rif.”

The attorney didn’t bother to pretend he didn’t know what she was talking about. He knew his old friend was waiting for him to say something, but he opted for silence. Sarabess raised an eyebrow in question. Instead, he reached for the cup of coffee the old housekeeper poured for him. He sipped appreciatively.

Sarabess set her own cup on the table. “I want you to hire someone to find her. It’s time. And it’s also time to do something about Mitzi. I . . . I want her taken care of once and for all. Do we understand each other, Rifkin?”

Rifkin. Using his full name meant Sarabess was serious.

Rifkin watched as a tiny brown bird flew into one of the ferns. He knew the little bird was preparing her nest. “Let it be, Sarabess.

You need to stop obsessing about . . . about Mitzi. There’s nothing I can do legally, and we both know it.”

Sarabess leaned forward. “How can you say that to me?”

“I can say it because I’m your friend. Mitzi aside, you should have called me fifteen years ago to ask me to find her. I warned you this would happen. Now, it’s too late.”

Sarabess stood up. “It’s never too late. You hounded me daily for years to do what I’m asking you to do now, and suddenly you’re telling me it’s too late! I don’t believe that. If you won’t do it, I’ll find someone who will. Mitzi may have me on a short leash financially, but I am not without influence in this town. As you well know, Rifkin.”

Suddenly he felt sick to his stomach. “You waited fifteen years too long. If you think for one minute that that girl is going to forgive you, you are wrong.” Rif brought the coffee cup to his lips. He didn’t think he’d ever tasted anything so bitter.

“She’s my daughter. I’m her mother.”

Rif sighed and closed his eyes. His voice was so low Sarabess had to strain to hear it. “You gave birth to her. You were never her mother. You were Emily’s mother. As your attorney, I’m advising you to let matters rest. As your friend and lover, I’m asking you to let matters rest. Please, Sarabess, listen to me.”

“I have no intention of following your advice, Rifkin. It’s time.”

“For you, perhaps. Not for Trinity. If she wanted to see you, she knows where you are. She could have come home anytime. The fact that she hasn’t called or written in fifteen years means she doesn’t have any interest in seeing you.”

“She doesn’t even know Harold died. She should know that,” Sarabess said coldly. “Mitzi knows. If you could just get inside that . . . that squirrelly head of hers, we could find Trinity in a heartbeat.”

“Now, almost fifteen years after the fact, you think Trinity should know her father died! I can’t believe I’m hearing what I’m hearing. I advise you to think seriously about what you are contemplating, Sarabess. You gave birth to Trinity so you could use her bone marrow so that Emily would live. Then you gave that child to your foreman and his wife to raise. You hauled her up here one day a year on

Princess Emily’s birthday. You had the Hendersons dress her up like a poor relation; then you sent her away after the party. Not to mention the humiliation of those countless other command performances—whenever Emily pitched a fit. You’re delusional if you think Trinity will want to see you.”

“I had no other choice. Emily would have died. Because of . . . of that . . . procedure, I had thirteen more years with my darling daughter. Thirteen years! I wouldn’t trade those thirteen years for anything in the world. When . . . When I explain things to Trinity, I’m sure she will understand. She is my daughter, after all. She has only one mother. We all have only one mother.” Despite Sarabess’s efforts, her voice was colder than chipped ice, her eyes colder still.

Is he buying into my explanation? At first blush, it doesn’t seem like it. Well, that will have to change quickly.

“I don’t care how much it hurts, Sarabess, but you were never that girl’s mother. You didn’t sit with her at night when she was sick. You didn’t take her to church, you never took her shopping. You never once looked at her report card, never went to a school meeting. You never read her a bedtime story or tucked her into bed. Half the time you couldn’t remember what her name was. Emily didn’t like her, either, thanks to you. Guilt is what took Harold to an early grave, and we both know it. I guess you’re just a lot tougher.

About Fern Michaels:

Fern Michaels is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood, Men of the Sisterhood and Godmothers series, and dozens of other novels and novellas. There are over ninety-five million copies of her books in print. Fern Michaels has built and funded several large day-care centers in her hometown, and is a passionate animal lover who has outfitted police dogs across the country with special bulletproof vests. She shares her home in South Carolina with her four dogs and a resident ghost named Mary Margaret. Visit her website at fernmichaels.com.

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