“DOESN’T CLARICE LOOK LOVELY!” DAPHNE EXCLAIMED in a whisper to her sister, Julia, seated beside her. They watched their twenty-five-year-old cousin, Clarice Davenport Appleton, and Freddy Stewart Courtney standing before the minister at the altar. The minister was about to pronounce them man and wife.
Julia Davenport smiled in assent but she was too moved to speak. Freddy lifted the veil from Clarice’s upturned face and kissed her as the organ chords reverberated through the church. Julia gazed at the stained-glass windows glimmering above the altar. Although weddings were as common as balls and dinner parties, Julia found herself feeling sentimental this evening.
The newlyweds began their promenade to the front of the church, where a horse-drawn carriage awaited them. The carriage would carry them the half-dozen blocks north, to the Appletons’ Fifth Avenue mansion. There would commence the dinner for the immediate family and friends, which would precede a ball at which over three hundred of society’s best were expected.
Julia wondered if the snow that had hung so heavily in the silvery dusk sky had begun to fall. She hoped so, for she loved the way a light snowfall softened the edges of the city streets and gave a magical look to the park that bordered Fifth Avenue on the west. As a child, Julia had believed snowfall the work of angels painting the earth, just as she herself spread a wash of colors on paper at her drawing table in the nursery.
Clarice turned in Julia’s direction, looking so radiant that Julia could not prevent the trickle of tears rolling down her cheeks. Julia felt a communion with her shy cousin as their eyes met and held for a moment. Clarice’s plain face and hefty body seemed transformed into loveliness, more by her happiness than by the delicate lines of her satin-and-lace wedding gown, Julia decided. Even Freddy looked almost dashing.
For the first time in her twenty-three years, Julia envisioned herself dressed in white lace, walking proudly down the aisle, her hand entwined with that of her new husband. Yet, as clearly as she could picture herself, the man beside her remained an unfocused, attractive figure whose face eluded recognition. While Julia acknowledged that she’d been blessed with a fair amount of physical beauty in face, form and coloring, she wondered if she would glow with half the inner beauty emanating from Clarice. For Julia knew that if true love did not manifest itself during the next year or so, she would have to make a suitable marriage, which her mother had been pressing her to do for the past three years. Twice Julia had been engaged; twice she had broken the engagements. Fond as she had been of both young men, she had not been able to conceive of herself married to them for a lifetime. Although divorce had become so commonplace within their set that it was almost fashionable, Julia still believed in the sanctity of the marriage vows.
Julia’s broken engagements had enhanced her social standing, for as curious as it was to her, the assumption seemed to prevail that because she was “hard to win,” she was worthy of greater regard and more ardent pursuit. She knew she was considered a charmer and a flirt. And flirt she did, for this appreciated social behavior was ironically the easiest for her. Her banter pleased, yet allowed her to keep her private thoughts comfortably hidden. Only through her painting could she express her inner self. Julia knew that her mother had never fathomed her decisions to end her engagements, but then to Mamma, she knew she was something of an enigma.
“I was thinking about my wedding colors again,” Daphne said, her brown eyes bright with excitement. “I’m not sure if I want blue after all. What do you think of yellow? The color of daffodils?” Daphne whispered, for her engagement to Harold, while presumed, was not yet formally announced.
“I think yellow sounds fine, but blue would be pretty as well. It’s your decision.” Daphne’s eyes assumed that dreamy look that had become her most common expression of late. Then Daphne’s eyes cleared and she smiled broadly. She covered her mouth to repress a giggle. “What did I say that tickled you?” Julia asked.
“You said that whatever I chose was fine.” Daphne leaned closer. “But we both know that the colors will be whatever Mamma decides,” Daphne answered, and again tried to repress her giggles. “I was only thirteen when Louise was married, but I still remember how Mamma won at each turn.”
Julia fought to keep from laughing at the memory of the war that had lasted for months. “I remember the battle of the flowers as well. But I’ve forgotten just what they settled on—”
“Orchids,” Daphne answered quickly. “The conservatory was festooned with orchids—Mamma’s favorites. . . . It was lovely actually, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, I guess it was,” Julia agreed with her sweet nineteen-year-old sister. “I think it was Mamma’s prodding that led Auntie Gertrude to choose orchids for Clarice’s reception too.”
Daphne nodded. “Well, they aren’t my favorite flower, but lucky for me I don’t mind them, as they shall probably fill the conservatory in Lenox for my wedding as well.”
“Lucky for Mamma that it is your wedding and not mine. For—”
Again Daphne grinned and said in a whisper: “Mamma will be so
thrilled when you actually decide to marry, that I’m sure she’ll consent to whatever flowers you wish. Whatever kind of wedding you wish—as long as it’s socially acceptable—when you marry—”
I marry,” Julia said, half-seriously.
“Oh, nonsense,” Daphne retorted. “Of course you shall marry. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the gentleman’s initials turned out to be P.M.!”
“P.M.? Now who might that be?” Julia sallied.
“Dearest . . .” Henrietta Miles Davenport said to Daphne, her gloved hand tapping Daphne’s shoulder. Daphne turned her attention to her mother providing Julia with a moment to reflect upon Daphne’s teasing about Percy Martin.
Julia wondered if Percy, who was presently courting her, might be the unfocused man in her fantasy after all. He had proposed a dozen times during the past year. Always with just the proper air of lighthearted jocularity that freed her from answering and still preserved his pride, friendship and hopes. Percy made her laugh more than any young man she’d ever known and she enjoyed his company and easy conversation. She believed that despite his casual air he truly loved her. But did she love him? She fancied him, but that was not necessarily the same as love. Mamma would be thrilled by the match, but that alone was not a good reason to get married. Yet, despite their frequent verbal dueling, Julia loved her mother dearly and would be happier than she cared to admit to finally please Mamma.
Julia glanced a few rows behind to where Percy sat with his parents and sisters. His boyishly attractive face, with eyes almost as blue as her own, immediately caught her stare. He gave her a smile and a playful wink. Julia felt her cheeks redden and wondered if Percy had read her thoughts. She smiled in return and pretended that she was scanning the pews and had just happened upon him. She played the role expertly, then turned away.
A glance in Mamma’s direction showed that her eagle-eyed mother had not seen her momentary loss of composure. Mamma’s elegantly coiffed head, beneath her ribboned and plumed hat, was cocked in the direction of Louise, Julia’s twenty-six-year-old sister, and Louise’s children, Gwendowlyn and Thomas Junior. Beyond them, Julia’s brother-in-law, Thom, engaged in conversation with Papa. Julia caught her father’s eye and smiled affectionately. With his reddish-blond mustache, thick silver-blond hair and blazing blue eyes, he looked handsome enough to be a bridegroom himself, Julia thought.
Julia saw that the last of the wedding party had disappeared behind the arched doorway. Soon they and the other members of the Appleton and Courtney families would begin their slow procession. Julia needed to stretch, but decorum forced her to wait until those in the first three pews filed past her.
To entertain herself, she studied the family members already standing. Sally Courtney, dressed in a pink brocade gown and flowered hat, appeared like a vision of spring on this frigid December evening. Julia supposed her own gown, a Worth design of buttercream satin with printed faille ribbons in an English flowered appliqué of rose and earth green, evoked a similar effect. Julia didn’t usually give the serious concern to fashion that Mamma, her sisters and friends did. Visits to their dressmaker were more a matter of unwanted obligation than joy.
Stretching her legs beneath her gown, Julia returned her gaze to her family. A man was crouching in the side aisle, speaking with her father. She could not see his face beneath his dark hair, but even bent in his somewhat awkward position, he remained an imposing figure: his shoulders broad, his legs solid and long beneath his finely tailored tuxedo. Something about him intrigued her but she could not place him. With aroused curiosity, she watched, waiting for him to rise. As she stared, she mentally filed through the names on the guest list, to which she’d paid scant attention. He must be an out-of-town guest, she decided. The name Mr. Coster from Boston came to mind because Mamma had made a point of what a fine catch he was. It had been at that juncture that Julia’s attention had wandered. Little had she expected that she would be regretting so now.
Julia had no idea how long it had taken her to realize that the man was staring directly into her eyes as she was into his. She quickly looked away to her gloved hands that were twisting the chain of her gold purse. Yet she paid scant attention to her nervous fingers as she continued to see his face in her mind’s eye, as acutely as if their eyes had remained locked.
His face was so beautifully sculptured that it brought to mind the magnificent Greek statues. Julia imagined the pale marble statue of David enlivened into a blaze of harmonious tints. The man’s ebony-colored hair was just a shade darker than his strong brow and large eyes, made all the more striking by their contrast to his fair complexion, which even from her distance suggested a clean-shaven yet manly beard. His straight nose and finely curved lips balanced the power of his cleft chin and strong jaw. His mouth broadened into a brief but polite smile. It had been the glint in his eyes that had sent a chill up the back of her neck. His black eyes had looked through
her, piercing her as they belied his smile.
Although the chill had subsided, her heart continued to pound. Suddenly the church seemed unbearably stuffy. Her racing heart and the constriction in her throat made her want to run into the cold night air. Run until she was too exhausted to feel the fear, the joy, the instant and ineffable recognition. For this man, at whom she dared not look again until she regained possession of herself, was the
man whose face had eluded her in her wedding fantasy but moments before.
Ian Woods was grateful when Mr. Davenport, seemingly unaware of the preceding moment, resumed their conversation. From the corner of his eye Ian absorbed the girl’s extraordinary profile as he recalled the vision of her full faced.
Never had he glimpsed a greater beauty. Her perfect high-cheeked oval face and alabaster skin were tinted with a pinkness that grew as their eyes held. Her eyes were so very large and round, their delft-blue color brilliant and yet almost translucent as she stared at him so openly and artlessly for a moment. Just before she looked away, down to her slender hands that played with the chain of her purse, he detected the pink tint rising up her high forehead to the edge of her upswept, glossy wheat-colored hair. He stole another look at her slender form in her cream-colored, flowered gown that graced her elegance as subtly as did the strands of pearls adorning her neck and the rose-colored garland crowning her hair.
The tautness in his jaw and the surge in his groin warned him. It had been a time since he had been so dangerously moved by the vision of a girl. He would let it take him no further, for he would never again allow himself to be tossed into the tumultuous sea that others called love. He had been steadfastly single-minded for the past five years and would remain so. His heart would rise in awe only
for the building he would design. Buildings that would soar through the skies of the city. In less than two years, the twentieth century would burst through the gilded, antiquated nineteen-hundreds. He, Ian Woods, would be one of its foremost architects. Architects of skyscrapers, architects of progress—
“. . . Mr. Woods?” Charles Davenport said, after having risen during the moments that Ian had helplessly drifted away.
“Yes, sir? I apologize,” Ian replied. There was no use trying to cover his bad manners, although he silently chastised himself for them. Charles Davenport’s face broke into a smile and his eyes twinkled, not unkindly.
“She’s quite a beauty, isn’t she!” Charles answered with a knowing smile. His eyes led Ian’s to the blond beauty, her back to them now, as she gracefully stood in the aisle. “And I suppose it’s my right, however immodest, to say so, since she’s my daughter.”
Ian abruptly turned his perusal to Charles’s face. His daughter . . . Why, of course! It was obvious. The girl had his eyes, his coloring. “I didn’t realize, sir. Yes, she is quite lovely. And the other two young women? Are they also your daughters?” Ian inquired, remembering the other two attractive females, who paled in contrast to the blonde’s radiance.
“Yes, they’re all my brood,” Charles said with a proud smile. “Julia, the one you were staring at,” he said evenly, his eyes direct but warm, “is my middle daughter. The one leading the two children up the aisle is Louise, the eldest. Thom, the gentleman I introduced you to, is her husband. The lovely lady in mauve, walking between the two girls, is my dear wife, Henrietta. And the pretty, pert little one on her left is my youngest, Daphne. I have to fork over the cash for one of these big matrimonial events myself in a couple of months,” Charles added, gesturing at the church with a disgruntled expression that fooled neither man. “Dang it. I guess that’s what the money’s for! Keeping the gals happy! And Daphne is a sweet girl . . . But don’t mention her marriage, ‘cause the engagement announcement isn’t going to be made until the end of the week. Henrietta would make my life miserable
if it got out before, and she learned I was the culprit.”
Ian laughed along with Charles, suspecting that his own mother and Mrs. Davenport were cut from the same cloth. But then, weren’t all of society’s women the true powerbrokers, while they allowed their men to hold the illusion of being kings? In the world of business and finance, kings they were, tyrants even—but at home and in society their power was titular and limited mostly to writing checks. Only in their offices and clubs could men still be men. “I won’t speak a word,” Ian assured Charles.
“Good,” Charles replied, and patted him on the shoulder. “What would the public at large think if they knew their ‘evil’ corporate giants quivered at the mere thought
of the wrath of their wives?”
Ian laughed again. He liked this man more than he’d ever expected he would, which was a bonus, since he intended to make Mr. Davenport a business proposition by the end of the week. But Ian didn’t wish to impose further at the moment. “I ought to let you get back to your family, Mr. Davenport.”
“Please call me Charles, and I shall call you Ian. I suspect that despite the fact that I’m old enough to be your father, you and I may turn out to be great friends, should you decide to settle into New York after all.”
Ian offered his hand to Charles. “I just may at that, Mr. . . . Charles,” Ian answered with a heartfelt smile. “I sincerely hope we will become friends, although I must insist that it’s difficult for me to think of you as old enough to be my father,” Ian continued sincerely. Once again he appraised the handsome, robust man who appeared to be in the prime of his life. Ian’s own father had died when he was still a boy. “I hope I’ll have the pleasure of your company tonight after dinner.”
“Better yet, I shall cajole my sister, Gertrude, into disrupting her table plans and into moving you across from me at the dinner table,” Charles promised, to Ian’s delight. He knew that with Charles for company, dinner would not be dull. “We’ll put you next to Julia,” Charles added, then stared at him with a puzzled expression before he broke into a gentle grin. “Julia’s my blond daughter.”
Ian had momentarily forgotten, so taken had he become with Charles. From the manner in which Charles’s grin widened, Ian realized he’d given himself away again. Ian preferred to think of himself as inscrutable, but somehow he didn’t mind that this unpretentious man was able to read him so quickly. They shook hands and Charles started across the pew. Ian had taken a few strides up the side aisle when he heard Charles call his name. He turned back to the steel magnate. “Sir?”
“Julia’s not married. She’s been engaged twice but broke them off, which I thought was a smart move, between you and me. She’s being courted by a nice fellow from a family so old-society and filthy rich that it makes ours look like we just got off the boat. He’s a decent chap, Percy is, but he doesn’t seem to have much direction,” Charles continued as softly as he’d begun. “I don’t think he’s going to catch her either. But don’t ever tell Henrietta I said that. Now, that’s two
life-endangering secrets I’ve told you. See you later.”
Ian watched Charles hurry across the pew and up the center aisle. With a shake of his head, Ian broke into a hearty laugh. God help him, he thought, if the beautiful Julia had half the character of her fine father! . . . The fact that he thought of the girl at all sobered him. She was Charles’s daughter, nothing more to him. He would treat her with the courtesy he would be expected to offer to any young woman under the circumstances. Ian had a feeling that Charles was exactly the kind of gentleman who would be interested in the future, and therefore interested in a business proposition that would help to create the firm that he and Ned Barrington, a fellow architect and his best friend, were about to open: Woods & Barrington. Architects for the future! He would make himself remember that, if tonight he did find himself seated next to the alluring Julia. He would not allow her beauty to cause him to forget the purpose of his life, not even for a moment.