Authors: Mary Campisi
When Christine Blacksworth’s larger-than-life father is killed on an icy road in Magdalena, New York, a hundred miles from the “getaway” cabin he visited every month, she discovers a secret that threatens everything she’s always held to be true. Her father has another family that includes a mistress and a daughter. Determined to uncover the truth behind her father’s secret life, Christine heads to Magdalena, prepared to hate the people who have caused her to question everything she thought she knew about her father. But what she finds is a woman who understands her, a half sister who cherishes her, and a man who could love her if she’ll let him. The longer she’s around them, the more she questions which family is the real one.
Bonus: An Excerpt from the first two Chapters of
at the end of this book.
A Family Affair
Other Books by Mary Campisi
To my children and stepchildren—
all you are today and all you will become…
He sat in the dark, staring at the slit of moon illuminating her hair. She was asleep, the slow, methodic rise and fall of the chenille spread taking her dreams away from him, safe, protected, while he hung caught between sleep and wakefulness, dark and light, too afraid to close his eyes lest he miss these last few hours with her. It was always like this, the dread mixing with the longing, pulling at him, shredding his sanity.
Perhaps, this month, he’d find the strength, merge past with present. He fell back against the soft cushion of the wing-backed chair, closed his eyes. Perhaps this month…
Christine Blacksworth scanned the jagged red and black lines on the computer screen, one crossing over the other, peaking, sliding back, inching forward again. She glanced at her watch. It would take at least fifteen minutes to run comparisons, ten more to analyze them, and another five to make recommendations. If she started right now, she’d be done in half an hour…the twenty-minute drive would put her at her parents’ house around 7:25
. Twenty-five minutes late for her father’s welcome-home dinner.
Her mother planned these gatherings with such precision that walking in even ten minutes late would upset the entire evening, not to mention what it would do to Gloria Blacksworth’s emotional state. Christine rubbed the back of her neck. Twenty-seven should be old enough to pick up the phone and tell her mother she’d be late, or not be there at all. She’d tried that once a year and a half ago when she and Connor opted for the theater instead of a family dinner. What a disaster that had been!
She dimmed the computer screen, gathered up her papers, and placed them in a folder to the side of her desk. Uncle Harry was probably already there, draining his first scotch and antagonizing her mother. They tolerated one another for her father’s sake. He insisted that Harry attend, though after the initial pleasantries and somewhere part way through dinner, the conversation usually turned to business, which left Uncle Harry and her mother staring at their wine glasses. Christine promised herself every month that she would try harder to include them, perhaps inquire about Uncle Harry’s latest golf game, or her mother’s garden club meeting, anything to avoid business, at least until coffee was served. But the pulse of the Dow was in her blood, surging up and down; the need to connect with her father emerging past the “hellos” and “Isn’t this Veal Oscar fabulous?”
She understood the necessity of her father’s monthly trips to the Catskills. The success of any great executive was downtime and Charles Blacksworth, CEO of Blacksworth & Company Investments had found his own piece of nirvana seven hundred miles from Chicago in a tiny cabin in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains.
And he deserved it.
“Didn’t anyone ever teach you that overwork is one of the great sins, Chrissie girl?
Especially on a Sunday?”
Christine tipped her glass of Chardonnay at her uncle and smiled. “I think it was you, Uncle Harry.”
He let out a loud laugh and downed the rest of his scotch. “No, girl, I would have said work on any day is a sin.” He winked and headed toward the liquor cabinet. He was a handsome man, tall, tan from hours on the back nine and frequent jaunts to Bermuda or St. Croix with his latest intrigue. Just shy of fifty, he was more fit than many of the men Christine knew, perhaps from his daily trips to the gym or perhaps because Uncle Harry worked at staying in shape and it was the only type of work he engaged in.
While other men were carving out their careers, striving for betterment in wealth, recognition, and fatter portfolios, Uncle Harry closeted himself in his office on the sixteenth floor practicing his putt, reading
and managing one solitary account—his own.
Christine noticed the way other people watched him when he came to her office, their eyes moving over him, taking in the Armani suit, the silk tie, the Italian loafers, and then dismissing him as though he were the courier come to pick up FedEx packages. They laughed at the crude, off-color jokes he told them every morning at the coffee station and then moved past him to their offices, to their work.
“I’m worried about your father,” her mother said, picking up a linen napkin, folding it just so, setting it back down. “He should have been here by now.” She moved to another napkin, picked it up.
“Maybe his plane was delayed. You know how flying on the East Coast is in January; one minute you’re boarding the plane, thinking about getting home in time to watch your favorite TV show, and the next, you’re stuck in your seat for two hours while they de-ice.”
“It isn’t raining or snowing outside.”
Christine shrugged as she watched her mother pinch a droopy leaf from a poinsettia. “He’ll be here, Mother.”
“He’ll be here, Gloria,” Uncle Harry said, swirling the ice in his drink. “Do you think he’d miss an opportunity to get back here to his lovely wife?”
She didn’t answer, merely pinched another leaf and then another. She looked beautiful tonight in her beige dress, but then she always looked beautiful, so tiny and delicate, like a porcelain doll
that’s been constructed with the utmost care. Christine had always felt awkward next to her, like a colt that can’t quite find its legs. Even now, as a grown woman, attractive in her own right, she couldn’t match the ethereal beauty of her mother.
“I say, we start without Charlie,” Uncle Harry said, his deep voice filling the room. “Damn sorry luck if he misses out on the lamb.”
Christine glanced at her mother, who was picking up specks of glitter that had fallen from the red poinsettia onto the linen tablecloth. “Mother? What do you think? It’s almost 7:30. I could try his cell phone again?”
Gloria pressed her forefinger against the cloth, her gaze on the glitter stuck to her skin. “If we don’t eat now, the lamb will be ruined,” she said, her lips tight, the muscles around her mouth strained. Then in a low voice, “He knows dinner’s at seven.”
The highlight of her week had been to create the perfect meal in the perfect atmosphere, only to find out that the guest of honor had not arrived. It was amazing enough that her mother still carried on this ritual for him, after all these years of marriage, or that he took great pains to accommodate her wish, to be where he said he’d be, when he said he’d be there, at least most of the time. Several of Christine’s friends had parents who were alone, whether by choice or divine intervention, and even those who still shared a name often didn’t share a bed or a relationship.
“Sit, sit,” her mother said in a loud, bright voice. “Harry, pour the wine, will you?”
He eyed her a moment, opened his mouth to speak, closed it. “Wine for three, coming up.” He picked up a glass and poured.
“He’ll be here, Mother. You know he will.”
“I know that, Christine.” She picked up her wine glass and took a healthy swallow. Her face flushed to a pale rose. “Would you please tell Greta to serve the salad?”
There was something sad and disappointed tucked away under her mother’s smile, beneath the serene calmness of her poised exterior as she spoke. “Sure.” Christine headed for the kitchen and the radicchio salad. Next month would be different. She’d make sure her father showed up an hour early with a dozen red roses and a bottle of Chanel No. 5.
That would make her mother forget all about tonight.
How many times did he have to tell her that he didn’t like all this crap in his salad?
Iceberg lettuce with tomato, cucumber, and a little bit of red onion. Period. Was it that damn hard to remember? So what if iceberg had no nutritional value, if the real nutrients were in the darker greens, like romaine or Boston lettuce or radicchio? He didn’t like the stuff, didn’t like the looks of it, the feel of it, the taste of it. If he were a damn rabbit, then he’d eat it, but he wasn’t. Harry pushed a raspberry to the side of his plate. And what was with the fruit stuck in the middle of a salad? Who the hell thought of that? Armand at The Presidio was the only one who didn’t try to put mesclun mix or dandelions or raspberries in his salad.
Gloria was so hopped up she probably didn’t know what she was telling Greta to put in the salad. Next she’d be sprinkling Crown Royal on top. And he didn’t buy that bullshit about her constant pain. She’d fallen off that damn horse sixteen years ago, and broken back or not, she should have enough dope and booze running through her veins to make her numb. Harry laid down his fork and took a drink. He’d need two more scotches just to block out the pathetic look on that woman’s face. So what if Charlie was late? Maybe he was holed up in some hotel room banging some young piece of ass and forgot about the time. He almost laughed out loud. That would really make Gloria cry. But Charlie was too straight for that kind of behavior. That was Harry’s style. Given the opportunity, he’d be the one shacked up in a hotel room, screwing some hottie, wife or not. And that’s why there wasn’t a wife, why there would never be a wife.
Just thinking about sex made him hard. Bridgett was only a phone call away—six feet tall, blond, blue-eyed. Twenty-three, great tongue. Shit. Why was he sitting here with a hard-on when he could be banging Bridgett? He knew why. Christine and Charlie counted on him being here for this circus, one night every month, and he wasn’t going to disappoint them, even if he had to put up with Gloria. No one ever depended on him for anything, not his work, not his women, not even his cleaning lady who demanded he pay her at the beginning of the month because he kept forgetting the weekly checks. Maybe they thought him incapable, uncooperative, or merely uninterested. Maybe they were right.
The phone rang in the background. It was probably Charlie, trying to pave the way for his late entrance. Good old diplomatic Charlie.
“That might be Dad.” Christine half-rose from her chair.
“Sit down.” Harry waved a hand at her and stood. “I’ll go see.” He grabbed his drink and let out a small laugh. “I better warn him to put his boots on before he comes in here or your mother’s tears will ruin his shoes.”
He swung open the kitchen door and Greta held out the phone to him. She was a pretty thing, close to forty, divorced, two kids. He’d thought about banging her when he first met her a year ago, unwinding that long blonde bun and wrapping it around his fist while he pumped into her, but he’d quickly dismissed the idea. Too much baggage, and besides, he liked her, which didn’t make for a quick, mindless screw.
“Mr. Blacksworth, it’s a man, for Christine.”
He laughed, momentarily distracted by Greta’s accent. He liked the way she said his name, all throaty and ruffled, like she’d just crawled out of bed, naked, of course.
“Mr. Blacksworth. It’s a man—”
“I know, I heard. So? Christine’s twenty-seven-years old; she can talk to men.” Greta shook her head, the thick bun swaying from side to side, making him think of hips and sex.
“He says it’s about Mr. Blacksworth.”
That jolted him. “I’ll take it.” He snatched the phone from her hand and said, “This is Harry Blacksworth. You’re calling about my brother?”
There was a second’s hesitation,
then a deep voice filled the line. “There’s been an accident. Your brother—”
“What kind of accident? Is he all right? Where is he?”
The other man went on. “…was driving on the back roads, and it was snowing…hard. Jesus, I’m sorry.”
“What?” Harry gripped the phone. “What the hell happened?”
“Uncle Harry?” Christine stood inside the kitchen door. “What’s the matter? Is it Dad?”
Harry covered the receiver with his hand. “It’s for me. You go back and keep your mother occupied, Chrissie. I’ll be there in a minute.” She hesitated a second, then turned and left.
“Hold on,” Harry said into the receiver. He went out the back door, down the steps and onto the patio, mindless of the cold. “Now tell me where the hell my brother is.”
“There was an accident.”
“Jesus, I already heard that.”
“His car hit a guardrail and flipped over an embankment.”
Harry’s head started pounding, splitting down the middle.
“It took three hours to get him out…”
“Where—?” Harry tried to push the rest of the words out, stalled, tried again. “Where is he?”
The words burst into his head, sucked out the oxygen, making him dizzy and nauseous.
“Who the hell are you?” Harry sank onto a patio chair and gulped in clumps of cold air. “And where’s my brother?” There was a long pause on the other end of the line, so long that for a second he thought the man might have hung up.
“He’s dead. He was driving on Sentinel Road in Magdalena when he lost control of his car, hit a guardrail and flipped over an embankment.”
“It can’t be.” A speck of hope crept into his soul. “Magdalena’s almost a hundred miles from Charlie’s cabin. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“It’s him. I know…knew Charles Blacksworth.” The man paused. “I’ll make the arrangements to have him sent back as soon as possible.”
The salad pushed its way up into Harry’s throat. How could it be Charlie? He didn’t make mistakes, especially not the kind that got him killed. This asshole was wrong. Charlie would be here any minute, just a little late, flight delay.
“It’s not Charlie.”
“Your brother’s dead.”
How could he sound so certain? “Where is he? Where’s this person who’s supposed to be Charlie? What hospital?” He had to see for himself.
“Don’t come. I’ll take care of everything. It’ll be easier on everybody if I just handle it.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Nate Desantro. My mother was with your brother when he died.”
The puke came then, green bits of salad and Chardonnay spewing his trousers, his Italian loafers, the snow at his feet and two yards beyond. The heaving and gasping covered him in sweat as new snow fell and his stomach clenched in exhaustive spasms, purging until there was nothing left but emptiness.