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The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by [Alex Brunkhorst]

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The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 285 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


"Daisy Buchanan has nothing on Matilda." -Cosmopolitan

"Brunkhorst's bittersweet romance is a charming and well-crafted read, full of great characters and a fabulous setting. Reminiscent of the best of Daphne du Maurier, it's a great story, full of wonderful Hollywood atmosphere and intrigue." -Library Journal, starred review

"The novel is wonderfully appealing, both romantic and moody-reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier."

"Brunkhorst's story is full of memorable characters and contains a first-rate plot; the latter will delightfully surprise the reader. This is a bittersweet treat that will appeal to a wide audience." -Publishers Weekly

"Though set in modern-day Los Angeles, the style of Brunkhorst's writing and the nuances of her tale hearken back to the glory days of glamorous Hollywood. Readers seeking to lose themselves in a lush, romantic mystery will be richly rewarded here."

"The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine is an irresistible gem of a book. Part novel of manners, part journey of self-discovery, I was absolutely swept away by this entrancing tale of love and privilege."
-Tara Conklin, New York Times bestselling author of The House Girl

"Alex Brunkhorst writes as deftly of the lives of the elite as she does of the secrets they and their acolytes keep to stay in power-whatever the cost."
-Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet
--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The tinkle of an antique servant bell announced my arrival.

The shop was so cluttered with priceless art and centuries-old furniture that maneuvering among them was impossible. I stood in place, hoping someone would come to my rescue. Sixty seconds later, she did. I did not hear the opening or closing of a door, and there was nothing to indicate how she had entered the room. Had she been watching me from behind the ceiling-height Asian room divider she would have seen me grasping for distractions—my cell phone, my reporter's notebook, a feigned interest in a chalk drawing that hung on the wall.

Nothing I had read could do Lily Goldman justice. She was in her midfifties, but she could have passed for forty-five. Her eyebrows were tweezed in an arched manner, and her blond hair was expertly coiffed in a tame bouffant that looked as if she had come from a salon. Her face was small and refined save for a prominent nose that belonged on a woman twice her size. It was her most striking feature, one that a less self-confident woman of means would have done away with years ago through plastic surgery.

"May I help you?" Lily asked. Her voice was surprisingly low, and it had a hint of a lady who smoked too much—though I was certain Lily had never picked up a cigarette in her life. Her breeding was too fine for that.

I discreetly rubbed my right hand on my pant leg, hoping to dry it. I reached over an antique oak writing desk, where my proffered hand hung in the air. She looked at it blankly.

"Yes, I'm Thomas Cleary. I'm a reporter, for the

For the first time she made eye contact, and I thought I detected a slightly favorable response, but then:

"I hate reporters. I never speak to the press," she said.

"You must be Ms. Goldman." Phil Rubenstein, my editor, had warned me about Lily Goldman's disdain for journalists before sending me on this mission. I got the distinct impression he thought it would be fruitless.

She looked away, focusing on a bronze candlestick in the shape of a bird. She rotated the bird one hundred eighty degrees.

"Birds don't migrate north, they migrate south. It is autumn, after all. This place is such a mess. I need to speak to the staff. Where did you go to school, Mr. Cleary?"

"You can call me Thomas. I went to Harvard."

"At Harvard I bet they taught you that birds migrate south for the winter, north for the summer."

"I recall picking up that tidbit at St. Mary's, my grade school in Milwaukee."

"A Catholic boy," she said with a wry smile.

She waited for me to respond, but I didn't. I was nervous because I was on what I hoped was my big-break assignment. It was my first and only story on the entertainment beat—a short retrospective on Joel Goldman, who had just passed away.

Despite the fact that we were only steps away from one of Los Angeles's most bustling intersections, it was strangely quiet in Lily's shop. I had come here straight from the paper, which was alive with phones ringing, keyboards clicking and frantic deadlines being met. Here, there hadn't been a single phone call, not a single customer. No car had passed. There was a formal English garden in front, but its chaises were bare, and its bird-bath and trees were devoid of birds.

"Were you taught by nuns in Milwaukee? I hear they can be terrible on the self-confidence," Lily said.

"I was," I said, nervously shifting my position. The reclaimed wood beneath me creaked. "It was Harvard that wiped away the self-confidence, though. The nuns weren't so bad in comparison."

"Milwaukee to Harvard. Quite the journey. Let's just hope it was a one-way ticket out."

"That's still uncertain," I replied—a gross understatement.

"And Los Angeles? Is this another layover or your final destination?"

"Yet to be determined, as well."

Lily fixed her eyes directly on me. They were deep set and an extraordinary shade of green. "Do your parents miss you?"

"My mother passed away a year ago." The memory was still fresh and I forced down the lump that formed in my throat. "And, yes, my dad misses me. I'm an only child. He wants me to come home and work for the local paper. But a hundred thousand in student loans later I can't bear to take a U-turn like that."

"I'm sorry to hear about your mother…and the student loans."

I detected no judgment in Lily Goldman's words, but I suddenly felt embarrassed by the fact that I had referenced the death of my mother and my student loans in the same sentence.

"How old are you?" she asked.


"She died young, then?"

"She was forty-eight. Pancreatic cancer."

"It must have been devastating."

Few people had taken this level of interest in my life since my mom had died, and I almost forgot why I was there to see her. I wanted to sit down in the distressed leather chair to my right, light a cigarette and tell Lily Goldman everything—about my mother, who shriveled into a skeleton while I toiled on inconsequential stories thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, a city I hated; about my grade school piano teacher, Sister Cecilia, who whacked my knuckles with an iron ruler; about the kids who used to pick me last for Red Rover.

And I wanted to tell her about Manhattan. What had happened there.

Professor Grandy's Journalism Rule Number One: Never let your subject change the subject.

"Enough about my situation. I apologize for taking so much of your time," I said. Even as a young boy I had always shunned attention, particularly from strangers, and here I was escorting Lily into the dark corners of my life rather than visiting hers. "I'm very sorry to hear of your father's passing. We're doing a piece on him, and I was hoping you could give me a quote or an anecdote, something that will make the reader know him better—something to remember him by."

"Ah, yes, my father."

At first that was all she said. I didn't blame her, because he was that kind of man. Joel Goldman's story was as legendary and epic as the movies he had brought to the screen. He had grown up in Nazi-occupied Poland, escaped the gas chamber, passed through Ellis Island as a boy with only a nickel in his pocket and within ten years catapulted his way from reading scripts in RKO's story department to creating one of the big movie studios.

According to Joel Goldman's former business associates, Joel had been known for his micromanagement, and that was putting it kindly. When he stepped on set—which he did almost daily—he practiced lines with his leading ladies, he whispered in his directors' ears, he berated craft services for everything from dry strudel to weak coffee. In the age of typewriters, Joel had been known to tear up entire first acts and shred them to the floor while horrified scriptwriters looked on. He scoured expenses to the penny and had been a ruthless negotiator. As a former studio chairman had anonymously told me over the phone that afternoon, "IfJoel Goldman sat across from you and you dropped a penny on the floor, he would pick it up and put it in his own pocket and consider himself the luckier for it."

My strongest trait as a journalist was not in asking, but in listening. So I waited.

"A hell of a man, my father," Lily finally said. "The first man to produce a movie that made a hundred million dollars. Can you believe it? He started a movie studio when he was only twenty-eight years old. That's unimaginable. Nowadays boys your age are pushing mail carts at talent agencies, not winning Academy Awards. That was the golden age of the cinema, of Hollywood. Bogie and Bacall used to come to our house in Cap d'Antibes for tea."

She smiled at the memory, and then I lost her behind the Asian screen. "Have you been to Antibes?" she called.

"I can't say I have."

Lily reemerged. She stared at an imaginary point in the distance through heavily leaded antique glass that distorted the outside garden. "We used to sit on the veranda, watch the boats and sip tea with rum. I know it sounds awful, but it's the most delightful drink. It was there that Bette Davis auditioned for
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The sea there is incredible, so green—so different than the sea in Los Angeles."

"It sounds wonderful," I said.

"The most exciting time of my life. I often think—well, it sounds silly—but I often think that if we go to Heaven we'll be allowed to live our lives again, fast-forwarding through the bad times, of course." She looked away, as if she might have revealed too much to a stranger. "I would go back there. To those times with my father in the South of France. I have no use for Hollywood. I only care for what it bought us."

She glanced at the notebook, unopened in my hand. I hadn't written a thing. It might have been nerves, or maybe Lily's personal memories were like coins she had dropped to the ground by accident. Unlike her father, I could not pick them up while she was steps away from me. It would be stealing.

"Is that the sort of thing you're looking for?" she asked.


"The quote."

"Yes, that's perfect." I scribbled to catch up.

"I figured as much. Intimacy—it's what we're all looking for."

She focused squarely on me again, this time homing in on my clothes. I had picked up the shirt several years earlier in Cambridge at a discount store and had ironed the shirt and pants myself that morning. The result was deep creasing that was worse than if I had let the dryer have its way with them.

"How does the paper allow its reporters to dress like they just came from a late night of too much drink?"

Lily wore all brown—sweater, knee-length skirt and two-inch pumps. But even in its singular color and simplicity the outfit bled money. The ensemble brought to mind a Parisian tailor on hands and knees with pins in her teeth. The only pizazz in the outfit was a substantial ivory necklace. I had only known Lily for a few minutes, but it already made sense. Diamonds could still be bought on the open market; elephant tusks could not.

Lily made a small adjustment to my collar, and her hands rested on my upper spine. It had been a long time since a woman had touched me, and I tightened.

As a reporter I was trained to see the tiniest of clues—those fragments and fingerprints others could only see under a microscope. There was, at that moment, a brief spark in Lily's green eyes. And then, just as quickly as her eyes bloomed, they withered and went almost black.

I had thought that Lily had been the one to bare her soul in this interview, but instead she had set the course so I would be the subject who revealed too much.

"You're a very handsome young man. Don't let poor clothing choices get in the way of that," she said, before calling out to the other room, "Ethan, come here."

A few seconds later a slight man around my age entered through the French doors in the back.

"Yes, Ms. Goldman." He spoke in little more than a whisper, and if his slim-fitting attire was off-the-rack it was off an expensive one.

"Thomas here is going to be attending dinner this evening. Please arrange with Kurt to pick him up."

"Thank you for the invitation," I interjected. "But I have a deadline, and I'm not exactly the fastest typist."

"That's one thing you'd think the nuns would have done right," Lily said. "It's a fabulous group—some of the guests worked with my father and are quite newsworthy in their own rights. I promise you won't be disappointed."

In truth, I generally would have forgone a dinner party invitation, but if there was any opportunity for this dinner to beef up my story on Joel Goldman I knew I had to attend. I gave Ethan my address in Silver Lake, an area on the east side of Los Angeles known as a bastion for artists—all of them hipper than I. Ethan arranged for me to be picked up at seven o'clock sharp.

"Good. It's decided, then," Lily said. "Thomas, I'll see you soon. Ethan, make sure everything goes smoothly."

Lily would soon disappear behind the Asian screen, but just before she did, she turned around and set her eyes on me one more time.

"Once again, I'm sorry about your mother, Thomas. You must be terribly lonely."

Before I could respond, Lily had vanished among the antiques.


als> y

And so that was how it began. Simply, without the fanfare one comes to expect from an evening that turns life's course from left to right. I called Phil Rubenstein to let him know I would be late with the story. Rubenstein hated slipped deadlines, but once I informed him that I would be joining Lily and a "newsworthy" cast for dinner, he let this one slide a few hours to accommodate the extra research. He then shocked me by changing the story from a one-column to two.

I had only one sport coat—a sales-rack special from a big-and-tall store in Milwaukee. I was tall and broad in the way Midwestern Germanic men are, but I was not big enough to fill out the coat properly, and its fit had always been loose. I was hoping Lily wouldn't notice. I splashed on some aftershave I had got for college graduation, and I slid my notebook and tape recorder into my jacket's interior pocket.

At precisely seven o'clock, my building's downstairs buzzer rang. An Asian man of about fifty, with an expression stern as his handshake, stood at the door.

"I'm Kurt," he said in the same manner one might use to greet a girl not attractive enough to sleep with.

"I'm Thomas, from the
Times" I added that last part as an afterthought, as if it somehow legitimized me.

Kurt opened the back door of a silver Mercedes sedan and I slid in. It smelled of new leather. I suspected Lily was the type of woman whose cars always smelled of new leather. An Evian water and, coincidentally or not, today's
Los Angeles Times rested in the seat pocket. I opened the paper to the Local section. My one-column article on the proposed 405 Freeway expansion was on page three.

I put the paper back in the seat pocket as we headed west down Sunset Boulevard, toward the sea, as Lily Goldman had called it. I had never been driven by a private driver before and I didn't know if I was meant to make conversation or sit in silence. I decided to take Kurt's cue. He didn't address me once during the hour-long journey; he listened to classical music on the radio and never glanced into the rearview mirror unless it was to change lanes.

--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00URJJXKW
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ MIRA; Original edition (September 22, 2015)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ September 22, 2015
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 773 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 320 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    3.8 out of 5 stars 285 ratings

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