It was spring. Regeneration was in the air. Parks and gardens across the city were aglow with dazzlingly beautiful massed displays of azaleas, rhododendrons, and an astonishing number of spring-flowering bulbsgorgeous oriental lilies, iris, hyacinth, heavily scented freesias and jonquils, golden daffodils. Sensual perfumes hung over the city like a bride's fine tulle veil. The sky had the blue lustre of an opal, and a few puffy white clouds raced on high.
Genevieve Grenville was near skipping along herself, since the current of her life had picked up. It wasn't all that long ago since she had found herself at a very low point in her life. But that had been then. This was nowthe future. Being positive, counting your blessings was the key. Move on and lock down the humiliating past. Pretty soon she just might be able to.
Her career was helping enormously. She was now a published writer, with a bestseller under her belt. She was certain her literary agent and editor, good friend Maggie McGuire, would have approved the final draft of her new book, Lovers and Losers. She was deeply indebted to Maggie for her belief in her, and her expert guidance. Maggie had been with her every step of the way. That included the woeful state of her private life that had left her wondering why she had any ego left.
Her debut novel, Secrets of the Past, had saved her, buoying her up. The hardback was doing a celebratory jig in her tote bag as she strode along, fired up with energy. It was a tremendous confidence booster to know that at twenty-seven she was making a name for herself in the literary world. When one was on a roll one had to stick with it; hence Lovers and Losers as her quick follow-up.
The reviews for Secrets of the Past had been thrillingly good
"A first-rate literary debut
"A bright new star has appeared on the horizon
" Couldn't beat that. Even more gratifying was the incoming feedback from her readers. One couldn't be a successful writer without one's readership. She had encountered many of her readers wanting to express their appreciation. It was always a pleasure, even a humbling experience, when someone mentioned that reading her book had helped them through a small crisis or a bad patch in their lives.
Genevieve knew all about bad patches.
Secrets of the Past had even made an impact sufficient to carry a well-known magazine's gold sticker: GREAT READ. What better plug could she want? It had come at exactly the right time.
Her ex-fiance, Mark Reedthe man she had entrusted with her life's happinesshad given in to temptation and slept with the young woman most off-limits in the world to him: her stepsister Carrie-Anne. Carrie-Anne was to have been her chief bridesmaid, for God's sake! She and Mark had been practically at the altar. She didn't think she would ever get over the treachery. The pain of betrayal still burned in her breast. Nor could she entirely control the image of the two of them naked in bed. They had taken something from her she would never get back.
But she was over the worst of it. Stiff upper lip and all that.
Writing was her solace. She had learned that living with pain, setbacks, and disappointments was what life was all about. If she had been less trusting she would have recognised pocket-size blonde Carrie-Anne's destructive potential. She had always been a devious little creature.
Mark's excuse took the cake. "It was a moment of madness, Gena. It's you I love. But Carrie-Anne is always trying to get one up on you. It's your own fault, in a way. You didn't make enough time for me. Always the damned book!"
What a cop-out! She had always made time for him, but she accepted the fact that spoilt rotten Mark had really wanted a woman like Mum, who spoke like a character in a Victorian novel and lived her life dancing attendance on her husband and her adored only son. Mrs Reed had once referred to it as a "noble sacrifice".
"Just hormones, Gena." That had been Carrie-Anne's excuse, her delicious little face contorted by crippling remorse. "Hormones. They're so dangerous!"
"Try sky-diving.." Genevieve had advised caustically. "Without a parachute. Better yet, take Mark."
There were no excuses for despicable behaviour.
Her appointment with Maggie was scheduled for three o'clock. She had never been known to arrive late. When she did arrive there were two hopefuls waiting. Going to Maggie's was much like going to the doctor's. One could be assured of a wait. Maggie's receptionist Rhoda, a large, flat-faced woman, darted a disapproving glance in her direction. She might have been a full thirty minutes late, or committed the cardinal sin of turning up without an appointment.
"Good afternoon, Rhoda." Genevieve gave the dragon lady a brilliant smile.
Rhoda did not respond. No surprise there. But she did condescend to point a finger at a seat. Here was a woman who wouldn't win any votes for Receptionist of the Year.
With a smile and a nod to the other two hopefuls, Genevieve found a seat on the other side of the room, so she could take out Secrets of the Past and appreciate it all over again. She liked the cover. It depicted a beautiful young woman's downbent face above her pen-name: Michelle Laurent. It was the maiden name of her French-born paternal grandmother. "Michelle Laurent" was set in large letters above the title. So much better to have it above than beneath. Such an attractive-looking book would draw attention. She had seen it prominently displayed in a bookshop inside a major shopping mall she had cut through on her way over to Maggie's.
Secrets of the Past had been written at night, when she'd still been teaching English and French at her old Alma Matera prestigious college for girls. She had enjoyed her years of teaching since university, but as soon as her writing career had taken off she'd found herself in the enviable position of being able to write full-time. Her beloved Michelle's handsome legacy had made that possible.
Grandmere Michelle had started to teach her French at toddler stage. She had always given love, support and endless encouragement. To Genevieve's grief Michelle had died very suddenly of complications following a severe bout of influenza. That had been a short time before the manuscript for Secrets of the Past had been completed. It was balm to know Michelle had pored over its drafts and offered valuable insights, which Genevieve had wisely acted upon. Maggie often said Michelle was a better editor than she wasand Maggie was the best.
Genevieve had fully intended using her own name, but that all had changed when Michelle died. To her readership she was Michelle Laurent. A tribute to her beloved grandmother. Her father had entrusted her to Michelle after her mother
Celine had been killed in a catastrophic five-car pile-up on the freeway. Genevieve had been ten at the time. Her devastated father had taken a few years before remarrying the divorced socialite Sable Carville. Sable had brought her glamorous, much-photographed self to the marriage, along with her little girl, the adorable Shirley Temple lookalike Carrie-Anne, who soon took her stepfather's surname Grenville.
So there they had beenthe two little Grenville girls, Genevieve and Carrie-Anne. One tall for her age and gawky to boot, with an unmanageable mane of red hair and freckles, the other the adorable Carrie-Anne, always exquisitely turned out by her fashion-plate mother. Genevieve hadn't received the same attention. Not much point spending time on a stepdaughter who didn't fit the description of "pretty". Only her father, a blue chip lawyer, had foreseen the day when the awkward cygnet would turn into a swan like her mother.
Her maternal grandparents were seldom in the country. After the death of their beloved only child they had become world-travellers, never staying anywhere for long. In their own way they were on the run from the tragedy, and from other family tragedies that reached back decades.
A very intense young man with a mop of bushy hair was being ushered out through Maggie's door, shaking his head in disbelief. From the expression of confusion and outrage on his face, he had discovered his prized manuscript hadn't been short-listed for the Booker Prize.
Maggie saw him off with an encouraging, "Keep at it, Colin." It was like a benign pat on the head. One of the other hopefuls spluttered into laughter. That was a bit unkind. Maggie jiggled her fingers at the two waiting hopefuls, and then gave Genevieve a big smile. "Come on in, Gena."
Genevieve gathered up her tote bag.
Maggie's office was very spacious, attesting to her success. The floor was carpeted wall to wall in neutral beige, with a luxurious oriental rug. Her desk was substantialmahogany with curved legs. Two cream leather armchairs were placed in front of it, and there was a separate seating area with a sofa and armchairs grouped around a glass-topped coffee table. Three of the walls were lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with a lot of leather-bound books with gold lettering on their spines. A large portrait of a very handsome man took pride of place directly behind Maggielooking over her shoulder, as it were. Most people were allowed to believe it was a family portrait, but Maggie had confessed after a drink or two that she'd bought it because it looked like Sir Richard Hadlee, the famous New Zealand cricket player, in his prime. Maggie had made Genevieve promise not to tell anyone.
Waving a hand towards some point on the ceiling, Maggie moved behind her desk. It was littered with so many manuscripts Genevieve always wondered how Maggie could work in such a shambles. Genevieve took a seat, depositing her tote bag on the fl...