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In the wake of a terrible loss, Rain is left alone to bear the Hudson family secreets -- as dark and forbidding as storm clouds on the horizon...
After the death of her beloved Grandmother Hudson, Rain found herself caught in a battle for the vast Hudson family wealth. Marked to inherit millions, Rain faced the fury of her unaccepting mother, her manipulative stepfather, and her cold, vicious Aunt Victoria. But no amount of money can keep Rain's world from crashing down when sudden tragedy strikes.
Left helpless after a devastating blow, Rain sinks into despair as her precious dreams are washed away?dreams that cannot be bought with the Hudson fortune. Her only hope for rebuilding her life rests in trusting a stranger who has come into her world -- a man whose generosity and kindness does not appear to come with strings attached, much to Rain's amazement. But just as she opens her heart to a promising new future, her past comes back to haunt her -- and Rain is pulled into a furious whirlpool of bitterness and heartache.
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One of the most popular authors of all time, V.C. Andrews has been a bestselling phenomenon since the publication of Flowers in the Attic, first in the renowned Dollanganger family series which includes Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows. The family saga continues with Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth, Christopher’s Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger, and Secret Brother. V.C. Andrews has written more than seventy novels, which have sold more than 106 million copies worldwide and been translated into twenty-five foreign languages. Join the conversation about the world of V.C. Andrews at Facebook.com/OfficialVCAndrews.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: Jake's Secret
Very often during the first few days I was alone in Grandmother Hudson's grand house, I would stop at one of the many antique mirrors and ask my image just who I was at the moment. The expression I caught on my face was so strange and new to me, I hardly recognized myself. It was almost as if some spirit in the house had possessed me for a while or as if the ghosts moved in and out of me at will, each changing my moods, my look, even the sound of my voice.
Back in Endfield Place in London, my great-uncle Richard and great-aunt Leonora's home, a ghost was supposedly trapped, the ghost of the original owner's mistress, poisoned by his wife. I didn't really believe in ghosts, but Grandmother Hudson used to tell me that a house such as this one, a house that had been home for so long to a family, was far more than just wood, stone, glass and metal thrown together to form a structure. It took on the character of the people who resided within it. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years of reverberating with their voices, their laughter and their sobs filled it with memories.
"Think of it as if it were a gigantic sponge around us, absorbing our thoughts and actions, filling itself with our very natures until it became a part of us and we became forever a part of it. A new family can come in here and have the walls repainted, the floors covered with new carpet, different curtains and shutters hung on the windows, new furniture brought into every room, but we will linger in the heart of the house.
"The new owner might awaken one night and hear strange voices as the house replays some moment from our past like a sponge that has been squeezed and drips its contents, revealing what's really deep inside."
She smiled at my look of skepticism. Long ago I had stopped believing in tooth fairies and magic. Harsh reality was in my face too much.
"What I really mean, Rain, is when you look at something, whether it be a home or a tree or even the lake and see only what anyone else can see, you are partially blind. Take your time. Let things settle around you, in you. That takes some trust, I know, but after a while, it will become easier and easier and you will grow stronger and fuller because of it. You will become a part of all you see and all you touch," she told me.
These were rare moments, moments when she permitted herself to let down her own fortress walls and give me the opportunity to look in on whom she really was, a great and powerful lady on the outside, but no more than a little girl on the inside longing for love, for softness, for smiles and laughter and rainbow promises. Even at her age, she could blow out birthday candles and wish, too.
Much of her, of that, remained in the house. Her body rested in the graveyard a few miles away from it, but her spirit joined the spirits of the others who passed from room to room in a chain of memories lighter than smoke, looking for a way to resurrect some of the glory.
They were testing me, visiting me, challenging me by tinkering with my thoughts and feelings. They filled the shadows in the corners and whispered on the stairs, but I wasn't afraid even though I quickly began to have strange dreams, strange because they were about people I had never seen or met. Yet, despite that, there was something familiar about them, some laugh or wisp of a smile that filled me with even greater curiosity. I saw a little girl sitting all crunched up on a sofa, her eyes wide with surprise. I heard sobs through the walls. My eyes traveled down until they found two teenage girls listening, their mouths open with astonishment. Well-dressed people paraded through the hallways to rooms filled with displays of food and wine. There was the sound of violins and then a beautiful voice could be heard singing the famous aria from Madama Butterfly.
I could make little sense out of any of it, but I kept trying, searching for some clues, some answers. Even though I had lived in the house for a while before going to London, there was still much for me to look at and explore. I spent hours in the library perusing the books and then sifting through the old papers and some of the correspondence still kept in file cabinets and drawers. Most of it was about the various projects for development Grandfather Hudson had started. However, there were some personal letters, letters from old friends, people who had relocated to different states or even different countries, some of them old college friends.
I discovered that Grandmother Hudson had had a close girlfriend in finishing school who had married and moved to Savannah. Her name was Ariana Keely and her husband was an attorney. She had three children, two boys and a girl. The letters were filled with details about her children, but very little about herself and her husband. Occasionally, she would drift into something revealing and I would be able to read between the lines and understand that apparently neither she nor Grandmother Hudson believed they had found the happiness and the perfection both somehow had thought was inevitable for people who had been given all the advantages.
"As you say, Frances, we're privileged people," Ariana wrote in one letter, "but all that seems to guarantee is a more comfortable world of disappointment full of more distractions, more ways to ignore reality."
It all made me wonder that if someone wealthy, born with status and advantages couldn't be happy, what should I really expect?
I was thinking about all this as Jake drove me home from the cemetery. Neither of us had spoken for quite a while. I sat gazing out of the window, but really not looking at anything. The sky continued to darken.
"You all right, Princess?" Jake asked finally.
"What? Oh, yes, Jake. I'm fine. Looks like it is going to pour."
"Yes," he said. "I was going to go into Richmond tonight, but I think I'll wait until morning, get up early and make the airport pickup."
I sat back. The dreary sky and my rush of sad memories filled me with a cold loneliness. You're too young to have to do battle with a great family, I told myself. I didn't ask for any of this. Thoughts about my mother, her husband and Aunt Victoria ganging up on me again tomorrow consumed me with dread.
"Maybe you oughta go to a movie or something, Princess," Jake said. "I can come by and take you, if you'd like."
"No thanks, Jake."
"Did you keep in contact with any of the friends you made when you went to school here?" he asked.
"No, Jake," I said smiling. He was trying hard, worrying about me. "I'm okay for a while. I'll keep myself busy by making myself dinner. Would you like to come to dinner?"
"Huh?" he asked.
"I've got a great recipe for chicken with peaches, something my mama used to make."
"Hmm. Sounds delicious," he said. "What time?"
"Come by about six."
"Should I bring anything?"
"Just your appetite, Jake," I said and he laughed. "You know how well stocked Mrs. Hudson kept the house."
Jake nodded, looking at me in the rearview mirror. Something in his eyes told me he knew I should be calling her Grandmother Hudson. It occurred to me that Grandmother Hudson herself might have told him the truth, but he never asked me any prying questions. Sometimes, I thought he seemed like someone on the sidelines who knew everything and was just waiting and watching to see how it would turn out.
"That I do. I took her shopping enough," he said. "No matter how I assured her, she always behaved as if she could never get me when she needed me. She'd always hit me with something like, 'Why add another worry to the load you're already carrying on your shoulders?' That woman," he said shaking his head, "she never stopped trying to change me."
"She was very fond of you," I said.
He nodded, his eyes smaller, darker. Suddenly he was the one who grew quiet. Neither of us said another word until we pulled up to the house. The first drops began to fall.
"Thank you, Jake. I'll get my own door," I added before he could step out. "See you later, Jake."
"Okay, Princess," he called as I rushed up the steps and into the house.
I was excited. I had something nice to do. I was going to make us a wonderful meal, my first dinner in my own big house. Wouldn't Mama Arnold laugh if she saw me now?
About an hour before Jake arrived, however, the phone rang and my mood took a plunge back into the pool of depression. It was Grandmother Hudson's attorney, Mr. Sanger.
"I received a call from Grant, Megan and Victoria's attorney a little while ago, Rain. It looks like they're deciding to go forward with this challenge. They'll be requesting all Frances's medical records and they'll try to show she wasn't of competent mind when she changed the will and gave you so much. It still might all be just a tactic to get you to compromise."
"I know they're coming to see me tomorrow," I said. "Jake told me."
"I could be there if you'd like," he offered.
"That might just make it all nastier. I'll call you if I need you," I said.
"Sorry," he said, "but this is often the way these things can go."
With the wind picking up and whipping the rain at the windows and the roof of the house, and now the news of an impending legal war between me and my reluctant family, I couldn't keep the trembles from making my hands shake as I worked in the kitchen. I set the table and brought out the candelabra. I imagined Jake would like some wine. I didn't know anything about wine, so I decided to wait for him to make the choice. When I glanced at the grandfather clock in the hallway, I saw it was about three hours slow again.
That brought a smile to my face. I remembered how unconcerned Grandmother Hudson was about time. Most of the clocks in the house were off, even the electric ones in the bedrooms and kitchen. The fancy French clock in the office had a malfunction she never had fixed and her cuckoo clock in the breakfast nook sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. It could pop out at the most unexpected times. I asked her many times why she didn't get it and the other clocks repaired.
"At my age," she would say whenever I mentioned the clocks, "you don't want to be reminded how many hours have gone by."
I told her she wasn't that old. Jake was older than she was and didn't even think of slowing down.
"Jake," she said, "hasn't the sense to think about his age. If he did, he'd realize just how much of his life he's wasted."
I had to smile at that too. She sounded disapproving, but she never really criticized Jake. Her complaints were like whippings with wet noodles. I could see by the way they looked at each other that they had an endearing affection. It was just that whenever Grandmother Hudson smiled at him, she always looked away first as if smiling directly at him might shatter some essential glass wall they had to keep up between them. I thought it had something to do with employers and employees, but I could never be that way, no matter how rich I was.
Anyway, I would soon find out that there were other reasons.
I rushed to the door when the bell sounded. Jake surprised me by being dressed in a sports jacket and tie. He had a box of candy too.
"You didn't have to get dressed up, Jake," I said, laughing.
"I couldn't imagine coming to Frances's house for dinner without being properly attired," he said as he entered. "Sweets for the sweet." He handed me the candy.
"Thank you, Jake. Is it still raining pretty hard?"
"Slowing up. The front's moving north to get the Yankees now," he said.
When he saw the dinner table, he blew a low whistle.
"Very nice, Princess. Very nice. Looks like you learned a lot being an English maid, huh?"
"I know what bangers and mash is and I can speak some Cockney slang," I told him and he laughed. "I didn't know what to pick out for wine, Jake. I thought I'd leave that to you."
"Oh. Sure," he said.
"You know where the wine cellar is, right?" I asked him.
"I do, Princess," he said. "I even know which floorboards creak in this house."
I nodded. Of course he did. He had once lived here a long, long time ago.
"Okay, Jake. I'll get things started while you do that," I told him and went to the kitchen.
When I brought in our salads, he had already opened two bottles of wine and poured me a glass. It looked like he had poured himself a second already.
"One thing about Frances," he said. "She always had good wine, whether it be a good California wine or French. She was a very refined woman, classy," he added. "Let's have a toast to her." He held up his glass and I lifted mine and we tapped glasses after he said, "To Frances, who I'm sure is setting things right wherever she is."
We both took a long sip of our wine.
"Good-looking salad, Rain. Warm bread, too! I'm impressed already."
"Thank you, Jake."
"So," he said, "tell me about your time in London. I hope you were having some fun."
I described the school, told him about Randall Glenn, the talented boy from Canada who was studying to be a concert singer and how Randall and I had done a great deal of touring. I told him about Catherine and Leslie, the sisters from France, the showcase presentation I was in and all the encouragement I had received.
"It sounds like you should return then," he said. "I hope you don't get stuck here for some silly reason, Rain. Take advantage of your opportunities. Frances would want that. She'd be disappointed if you didn't," he said.
When Jake and I looked at each other, I couldn't help feeling there were things that were not being said. Every time he would mention Grandmother Hudson's name, he would get a misty glint in his eyes.
I brought out the main dish and he raved about it, saying someday I'd make a lucky man a wonderful wife.
"But you'll probably be one of these modern women who thinks the kitchen is beneath her," he added.
"I don't think so, Jake. Not the way I was brought up," I said.
He wanted to know more about my life growing up in Washington, D.C. He listened attentively, his face turning hard and his eyes cold when I described with more detail than ever before what exactly had happened to my stepsister Beneatha.
"No wonder your mother wanted to get you out of that world," he said.
Again, our eyes locked for a longer moment. I was surprised that Jake had already finished a bottle of wine himself and was well into the second. I had yet to finish my first glass. I looked down at my plate, pushed some of my food around with my fork and, without looking up, asked, "How much do you really know about me, Jake?" I lifted my eyes quickly. "How much did Mrs. Hudson tell you?"
He started to shake his head and stopped, a smile on his lips.
"She used to say you had a divining rod for the truth," Jake said softly.
"You know, those things some people swear can find water."
"Oh." I nodded. "So what well of truth have I discovered, Jake?"
He laughed but then grew serious quickly.
"I know Megan is really your mother," he admitted. He fingered his wineglass. "I always knew."
"Grandmother Hudson told you?"
"What else did she tell you?"
He looked up.
"Not long before she died, she told me how you hunted down your real father in London," he said.
"I didn't exactly hunt him down."
"Those were her very words. I just knew she would do it, she said. Frances wasn't angry about it. She was impressed with your resourcefulness."
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