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Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford

Act of Will

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Act of Will

Barbara Taylor Bradford

Copyright

Act of Will
Copyright © 1986, 2014 by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Cover art, special contents, and Electronic Edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Cover jacket design by Alexia Garaventa
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795338472

Dedicated with love to the memory of my parents, Winston and Freda Taylor. She gave me the greatest gift a mother can give a child, the desire to excel. He taught me to be strong of heart and to stand tall.

It is also for my husband Bob, whose love and support has equalled theirs, with all of my love.

Contents

Prologue 1978

Audra 1926–1951

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Christina 1951–1965

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Epilogue 1978

An Excerpt from A Woman of Substance

Other Barbara Taylor Bradford titles from RosettaBooks

Prologue

Audra, Christina and Kyle

1978

Prologue

Audra Crowther sat on the sofa in the living room of her daughter’s Manhattan penthouse. She held herself tensely and clenched her hands together so hard that the knuckles shone white as she looked from her daughter Christina to her granddaughter Kyle.

The two younger women stood in the middle of the room, their faces pale, their eyes blazing as they glared at each other. Their angry words of a few minutes ago still reverberated on the warm afternoon air.

Audra felt helpless. She knew that to remonstrate with them, to attempt to make them see reason, was a waste of time, at least at this moment. Each was convinced she was right, and no amount of persuasion would make them reverse their positions or endeavour to understand the other’s point of view.

Even their clothes were like uniforms, underscoring their intrinsic differences, further separating them. Blue jeans and sneakers for Kyle, the white Swiss voile shirt her only concession to style, the combination giving her an oddly vulnerable, childlike look, with her scrubbed face and long hair hanging loose. And for Christina, an expensive, beautifully cut dress and tailored jacket of matching raw silk, without doubt bearing her own couture label; the silver-grey of the silk the perfect foil for her chestnut hair shot through with reddish-gold lights, the
grey also emphasizing her lovely smoky eyes which had always been her best feature. She was slender, impeccably groomed, and not showing her forty-seven years in the least.

Tycoon versus student… role model versus rebel… mother versus daughter, Audra thought, smothering a sigh. Well, it wasn’t the first time a mother and daughter were at odds with each other; that was an age-old conflict.

Suddenly Kyle broke the protracted silence when she snapped, ‘And there’s another thing, Mother. You had no right to drag poor Grandma into this débâcle, drag her all the way from England, especially since—’

‘I didn’t!’ Christina shot back. ‘It was your father who telephoned my—’

‘Oh yes, go on, blame Dad,’ Kyle cut in, her voice scathing.

‘But it
was
your father who phoned my mother,’ Christina protested. She appealed to Audra. ‘Isn’t that so, Mummy?’

Audra focused her attention on her granddaughter. ‘That’s quite true, Kyle.’

Kyle tossed back her mane of black hair, then thrust her hands in the pockets of her jeans, her movements brusque, defiant. Her huge brown eyes, usually doe-like and soft, flashed rebelliously. ‘I suppose he thought we needed a mediator. Well, we don’t… there’s nothing to mediate—’ She brought herself up short, swung her long-limbed body towards Audra and gave her a wan half smile. ‘Sorry, Grandma, I don’t mean to be rude to you, but you shouldn’t have been forced to travel half-way around the world just because my parents have discovered they can’t
influence
me, or
handle
me any more.’ Kyle let out a laugh that was abnormally harsh. ‘You see, the
trouble is that my parents treat me like a child, Grandma. Anyone would think I’m nine years old, not
nineteen
, for God’s sake, the ridiculous way they’re carrying on.’

Before Audra had a chance to comment on these strident assertions, Kyle pivoted to face Christina. Her voice rose shrilly as she rushed on, ‘Nothing will induce me to change my mind, Mother.
Nothing
. And
nobody
. Not even Grandma. I’m going to live my life the way I want. It’s my life and no one else’s. You and Dad can cut me off without a nickel. I don’t give a damn. I’ll manage somehow. I’ll get a job to support myself while I’m studying. I don’t need any help from you!’

‘Neither your father nor I have ever said anything about cutting you off,’ Christina exclaimed, furious that Kyle was even suggesting such a thing. ‘
Your
problem is your inability to discuss this matter intelligently. And
calmly
. You fly off the handle every time we attempt to have a reasonable conversation with you.’

‘Listen who’s talking! You’re not calm either!’

Christina’s mouth tightened in aggravation, but she strove hard to curb her increasing exasperation with her daughter. ‘That’s not so surprising is it?’ she countered in her coldest tone. ‘I have built an enormous empire, an international fashion business worth millions and millions of dollars, and you’re my only child, my
heir
. It’s always been understood that you’d succeed me, one day. Understood by
all
of us. Why, you’re being trained with that in mind… and now, out of the blue, you announce that you don’t want the company. I’m flabber—’

‘No, I don’t!’ Kyle shouted. ‘Can’t you get that through your head
yet
, Mother? I’ve been saying it for days! I’m not in the least bit interested in your stupid business empire! It can go to hell,
collapse
, for all I care! It’s your problem, not mine!’

Recoiling, Christina drew in her breath sharply. She was as much stunned by Kyle’s vehemence as by her words.

Audra, shocked, admonished swiftly, ‘Steady on there, Kyle.’

Immediately, Kyle knew she had gone too far, and she bit her lip in embarrassment. Bright hot colour blotched her neck, sped up into her smooth young cheeks. She glanced at her grandmother, so pale and still on the sofa. She saw the sadness and disappointment reflected in Audra’s candid blue eyes, saw the gentle reproach on her sweet face. Discomfort tinged with shame swept over her. She recognized she had discredited herself with her grandmother, whom she adored, and this she could not bear. She burst into tears and fled before she disgraced herself further, slamming the door behind her.

Christina stared at the door speechlessly.

She was mortified, enraged, and so taut that her shoulder blades protruded through her thin silk jacket. ‘Can you believe it!’ she exploded and took a step forward, obviously intent on following Kyle.

‘No, no, let her go,’ Audra said firmly, pushing herself up, hurrying across the room. She took hold of Christina’s arm and led her back to the sofa.

Gently forcing her daughter down next to her, she went on, ‘There’s no point in continuing this. There’s nothing to be gained. You know very well that the things we say when we’re angry are difficult to retract later, and you must admit you’re both overwrought at the moment.’

‘Yes, I suppose we are.’ Distractedly, Christina ran a hand through her hair, then slumped against the cushions, feeling miserable and frustrated. But after only a moment she jumped up, restlessly began to pace back and forth in front of the fireplace.

As she watched her, Audra’s worry intensified. She had never seen Christina quite like this before, so agitated, with her temper so close to the surface and her patience so tightly stretched. Normally she was calm, in control, no matter what the circumstance. But then her world had never been rocked as it was rocked now; and Audra knew, too, that Kyle’s words, thoughtlessly uttered in the heat of the moment and without any real malice, had nevertheless been cruel, hurtful to Christina.

Wishing to assuage that hurt as best she could, Audra said in her most reassuring voice, ‘Kyle didn’t mean it, Christie. You know, about not caring if the business collapsed. Of course she cares, and she does love you, dear.’

‘She has a fine way of showing it,’ Christina grumbled without looking at her mother, continuing to pace, her nervousness unabated, her mind still fogged by the pain her daughter had inflicted.

Audra sighed and, understanding everything, remained silent. She settled back in the corner of the sofa, waiting for Christina to calm herself, relieved that the shouting had stopped. There was hardly any sound in the room now, only the faint murmur of silk against silk as Christina moved, the ticking of the brass carriage clock on a chest between the French windows, the muffled rumble of the traffic on Sutton Place spiralling up through those windows, standing wide open on this balmy day in the middle of May. She glanced towards the terrace, mottled with sunlight, blooming with greenery and flowering plants, absently wondering how well the pink azaleas would do out there.

Then she brought her eyes back to the interior, let them roam around. For a split second her anxiousness was diluted as she absorbed the loveliness of the setting
awash with tones of peach and apricot and cream, the beauty surrounding her, enveloping her… the priceless art on the walls, two Cézannes, a Gauguin… the fine English antiques with their dark glossy woods… bronze sculpture by Arp… the profusion of flowers in tall crystal vases… all illuminated by silk-shaded lamps of rare and ancient Chinese porcelains.

What marvellous taste Christina and Alex have, Audra thought, and experienced a burst of motherly pride in her daughter and son-in-law. This was not induced merely by the graciousness they had recently created in this room, but was a genuine pride in what they were as people, for all that they had achieved in their life together. They had a harmonious relationship, and their marriage had only gone from strength to strength over the years, and for that Audra was thankful.

Her thoughts settled on Alex Newman. He was a kind and gentle man, one of the most thoughtful people she had ever met. He had been like a loving son to her. How she wished he were here at this moment. He may not have succeeded in quelling the trouble which had erupted between his wife and daughter, but with his tact and good humour, and worshipping Christina the way he did, he always had a tranquillizing effect on her.

Audra turned her head, looked over at the carriage clock. To her disappointment, it was only ten minutes to five and Alex never got home from work before seven. On the other hand, perhaps he would arrive earlier today, since they were going out to dinner at eight. As she contemplated the evening stretching ahead, her heart sank. Unless there was a radical change in Kyle’s disposition in the next few hours it was going to be an awkward evening.

Now, as though she had homed in on Audra’s thoughts,
Christina said, ‘I don’t much relish the idea of going to dinner at Jack and Betsy Morgan’s, nice though they are, and so fond of you, Mummy. No, not with Kyle in this bolshy frame of mind.’

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