Read Cathy Kelly 3-book Bundle Online
Authors: Cathy Kelly
‘Twenty-three, twelve and fourteen,’ he said, his face softening. ‘Tom, he’s the eldest. He’s in France working on his French, and possibly on the girls. Matt’s next, bit of a gap, I know, and he’s into music in a big way. Practises guitar all the time, won’t touch his math homework. Ironic, given that’s how I’ve made my money. Josh is more into his books. His school had an extra language class this term, Japanese, and he took it.’ Joe couldn’t keep the pride out of his voice. ‘Tom says his little bro is mad. Kids, huh?’
‘And they live with…?’ Izzie probed.
‘Us. We’re still in the same house while we’re sorting it all out,’ he said. ‘The separation has been a long time coming, but we’ve only recently formalised it. We’ve a big house,’ he added. ‘We want to get things right for the boys and this was the best way. No Dad moving out, not yet.’
‘Ah,’ Izzie said. Time for her to back off. No matter what instant attraction she’d had for this guy, she didn’t want to get caught up in a messy separation and divorce, or even be his rebound person. Any man getting out of a marriage after that long would be rebounding like a basketball at a Knicks’ game.
‘That’s my building,’ she told the driver as the Perfect-NY offices came into view.
The car pulled up. Joe put one hand on the door handle to let her out his side, the kerb side.
‘Would you have lunch with me one day?’ he asked.
‘You’re still married,’ Izzie pointed out. ‘In my book, that affects the whole dating process. It gets kinda messy – I’ve seen it. I don’t want to experience it.’
‘Just lunch,’ he said, and his steely grey eyes seemed to melt as they stared at hers. Izzie felt it again: that lurch of excitement inside her. She could honestly say she’d never felt anything like that before in her whole life, but what was the point? Their relationship could only be a friendship, it had no future. Otherwise, she’d be doing something really dumb.
‘Don’t move,’ Joe told the driver. ‘I’ll let Ms Silver out.’
‘Whatever you want, Mr Hansen.’
Whatever you want, Mr Hansen
, thought Izzie helplessly, feeling that wave of attraction spanning out from her solar plexus again.
Just one little lunch. What was the harm in that?
The edges of the black-and-white photograph were ragged and slightly faded, yet life shone out of it as fiercely as if it had been taken moments before, instead of some seventy years previously.
Four women and five men stood around a huge stone fireplace, all clad in the evening dress of the 1930s: the women with marcelled hair, languid limbs and dresses that pooled like silk around their ankles; the men stern-faced in black tie, with luxuriant moustaches, and an air of command lingering around them. One man, the oldest of the group, held a fat cigar to his lips, another raised his crystal tumbler to the photographer, one foot resting lazily on the fireplace’s club fender, the perfect picture of a gentleman at ease.
On either side of the group stood two antique tables decorated with flowers and silver-framed photographs. On the parquet in front of them, a tiger rug lay carelessly.
The whole scene spoke of money, class and privilege.
Jodi could almost hear a scratchy gramophone playing Ivor Novello or the Kit Kat Band in the background, the music weaving a potent spell.
Lady Irene’s Birthday. Rathnaree, September 1936
, was written in faded ink on the back.
Jodi wondered which of the four women was Lady Irene. One of the two blondes, or perhaps the woman with a jewelled diadem woven into her cloudy dark hair like an Indian nautch dancer?
The photo had been tucked away in a copy of
The Scarlet Pimpernel
, caught in the library’s elderly glued-on cover from decades ago. Jodi Beckett had nearly missed it. She’d gone to the Tamarin library one morning when her computer crashed for the third time and she’d been so angry that she just had to get out of the small cottage that still wasn’t her home, even though she and Dan had lived in Tamarin for two months now. Relentless rain meant that even walking was no escape, and then Jodi had thought of the library right at the end of their street.
She’d spent many hours in the college library when she’d been studying at home in Brisbane, but in the past few years she’d rarely ventured into one. She passed the Tamarin Public Library every day on her way to buy groceries and she’d never stepped inside. That morning, she ran down Delaney Street, head bent against rain that stung like needles, and entered a haven.
The place was empty except for an elderly man engrossed in the day’s newspapers, and a twenty-something librarian with a clever face, dyed jet-black hair, a nose ring and violet lipstick that matched her fluffy angora hand-knit sweater. Silence reigned, settling over Jodi as calmly as if a meditation CD was playing in her head.
An hour flew past as she wandered between the shelves, picking up book after book, smiling at ones she’d read and loved, making mental notes of ones she hadn’t.
And then the photograph had fallen from
The Scarlet Pimpernel
, and Jodi had felt that surge of fascination she
remembered from a long-ago summer when she’d joined an archaeological dig in Turkey as a student.
Archaeology hadn’t been for her: she loved history but wasn’t enamoured of the physical digging-in-the-dirt part of it. Yet this photo gave her the same buzz, the sense of finding something nobody had seen for decades, the sense of a mystery waiting to be unravelled.
The librarian had been delighted to be asked for information and had told her that Rathnaree was the big house of the locality.
‘They were known as the Lochraven family, Lord Lochraven of Tamarin. Sounds good, huh? They were Tamarin’s gentry,’ she’d said. ‘It’s still a beautiful house, although it’s a bit ruined now. Nobody’s lived there for years. Well, since I can remember,’ she added.
‘Are there any books about the house or the family?’ Jodi asked.
The librarian shook her head. ‘No, not one, which is odd. The Lochravens were in that house for two hundred years at least, maybe longer, so there must be lots of interesting stuff there.’
Jodi felt the surge of mystery again. ‘I know the photo’s probably officially the library’s,’ she said, ‘but could I take it and get a copy made? I’m a writer,’ she added, which was technically true. She was a writer, but was unpublished since her thesis on nineteenth-century American poets, and had made her living for the past seven years in publishing, working as a copy editor. ‘I’d love to do some research on Rathnaree. See the house, hear about the people…write a book about it.’
There, she’d said it. Dan was always urging her to write one, but Jodi didn’t know if she had the spark required for fiction and, until now, she’d never had an idea for non-fiction.
‘A book on Rathnaree! Wicked!’ the librarian replied. ‘There’s a guidebook on the town with information about it,
but that’s all. Don’t move! I’ll find it for you. You’ll love the house. It’s beautiful. I mean, imagine living in a mansion like that.’
A copy of the photo now lay on the passenger seat of Jodi’s car along with a small local guide to the area which carried another photo of Rathnaree House as it had looked in the fifties. She rounded the last corner of the avenue to the house, mentally muttering about how hopeless the car’s suspension was, and how bumpy the avenue. Avenue was really far too grand a word for it, she decided, for even though it was lined with stately beech trees and was at least a mile long, it was nothing more than a country track with a high ridge in the middle where grass grew.
And then, when she’d cleared the last corner and driven past an overgrown coral pink azalea, she saw the house. And her foot slid automatically to the brake, hauling the little car to a stop on a scree of gravel.
‘Holy moly,’ Jodi said out loud and stared.
The grainy black-and-white picture in the Tamarin guidebook hadn’t done justice to the house. In its nest of trees, once-perfect hedging and trailing roses, stood what the guidebook had described as ‘
a perfect example of Victorian Palladianism
’. In reality, this meant a gracefully designed grey building with the graceful arches and stone pillars of Palladian architecture and vast symmetrical windows looking out over a pillowy green lawn dotted with daisies and dandelions.
The huge house stretched endlessly back and widened into stables, servants’ quarters, a Victorian conservatory to the right, and the lichened walls of a kitchen garden that led off to the left. Giant stone plinths topped with weed-filled jardinières signalled the start of a box-tree-edged herb garden designed in a knot layout, now rampant with woody rosemary and lavender that sent their hazy smells drifting into the air.
There were no ladies in elaborate flowered hats and long dresses standing about beside stern moustachioed men, nor any sign of long sweeping cars with gleaming bonnets. But this Rathnaree, although older and clearly much less tended than the version from either of the photographs, still retained the unmistakable grandeur of the Big House.
Fleets of servants would have been needed to run it and thousands of acres of land would have been needed to pay for it all.
It was another world, a time when Tamarin was the little town where the powerful Lochraven family sent their servants to do their bidding. Now Tamarin was a thriving place while Rathnaree was empty, the Lochravens long gone, apart from the house’s owner, a distant cousin who never set foot in the place, the librarian had explained.
‘Rathnaree is the Anglicised version of the name. It’s really
Rath na ri
– fort of the king, in the Irish language,’ she’d continued. ‘Can’t remember half of what I learned in school, but we all had that drummed into us. I had a history teacher once who was very interested in the Lochravens, said her mother had been at hunt balls at Rathnaree House in the thirties; it was very formal, with a butler and women wearing long dresses and gloves. Imagine! I like those sort of dresses but I wouldn’t be into the gloves. Do you want me to draw you a map of how to get there?’
‘No,’ Jodi said. ‘I know roughly where it is. I’ve been living here for two months now.’
‘You have? Where? Tell us.’ The girl had leaned companionably on the counter.
‘My husband and I moved from Dublin,’ Jodi explained, as she had so often since she and Dan had arrived in Tamarin.
No chance of not knowing your neighbours
It was all very different from the apartment in Clontarf where they’d lived for two years where they only knew their
neighbours from the sounds they heard through the thin partition walls. On one side, there were the Screamers During Sex. On the other side, were the
addicts, who had digital television and spent entire evenings with the television on full volume so no bit of an autopsy went unheard. Neither Dan nor Jodi would have recognised either set of neighbours in the lift unless one of them shouted ‘oh yes, YES!!’
Their new home in Tamarin was a crooked-walled cottage on Delaney Street with a tiny whitewashed courtyard of a garden. Within a week of their arrival, they’d been to dinner with the neighbours on both sides, had been offered a marmalade kitten by the people across the street, and were on first-name terms with the postman. In their old home, they’d never even seen the postman.
‘Dan, my husband, works in St Killian’s National School,’ Jodi explained. ‘He’s the new vice-principal –’
‘Oh, Mr Beckett! My little sister’s in sixth class. Now I know you!’ The librarian was thrilled. ‘You’re Australian, aren’t you?’
Jodi grinned. ‘Great bush telegraph round here.’
‘Works better than the broadband,’ the girl grinned back.
‘Tell me about it. I work in publishing and I’m going crazy trying to connect up. The engineer told me it was to do with being at the end of the line on our street, which doesn’t make sense.’
‘He says that to everyone, don’t mind him.’
A group of school children and their teacher on a mission to find out about Early Bronze Age settlement remains had arrived at that moment, and the librarian, smiling apologetically at Jodi, had turned to deal with their request. Jodi had made a few gestures to signify her thanks, and left.
She’d gone home with her precious photograph and that evening, when Dan arrived home, she’d told him about her idea.
‘You want to write a book about these people,’ he said, sitting down at their tiny kitchen table so he could study the photograph carefully. ‘Sounds good to me. Amn’t I always telling you that you should write a book?’
‘Yes, but I never had anything I wanted to write about,’ Jodi said, perching on his lap.
Dan put his arms around her and held her.
‘I’m sorry about today,’ she said. She’d phoned him at work when her computer had crashed for the third time, shouting that she was sick of this bloody town and it was all very well for
he had a job to go to and people to see, but what about her?
‘It’s OK. I know it’s hard for you,’ Dan said, his lips buried in her hair. ‘I love you, you know, you daft cow.’
‘Love you too,’ she’d replied, allowing herself to feel comforted by him. Since the miscarriage, she’d felt so wound up, like a coiled wire spring, that she’d been unable to let Dan console her. Moving here for his new job was supposed to help, but it hadn’t. Here, in this watercolour-pretty town, she felt alien and out of place. Even their old home with the noisy-during-sex neighbours was better than this. She’d done the pregnancy test there: sitting on the toilet seat in their tiny blue ensuite with Dan hovering over her eagerly.
She’d been pregnant there. In Tamarin, she wasn’t, had never been. Might never be again.
And now this old photo had sparked a little of the old Jodi, had made her feel ever so slightly like she could be herself again.
She leaned against Dan and closed her eyes. She’d have to do some online searching. And sort out the laptop. No way could she begin proper research with a dodgy computer.
Two days later, she was standing in front of beautiful Rathnaree House with the scent of lavender in her head.
Jodi wandered around the deserted gardens, peering in the great windows, but she could see so little: the windows were
filthy and shuttered from the inside. The gloom from within meant she couldn’t make out anything.
Prevented from entering the courtyard behind the house by a giant rusting gate, she stood with her hands on it, rattling it furiously.
She wanted to get inside, wanted to see Rathnaree and learn its stories.
Her list of people to see was growing. Ever since she’d told Dan about the photo, ideas had been bubbling out of her head. First, she needed to speak to someone who knew everything about the local area and would be able to put her in touch with the right people. Yvonne, who lived next door to them with her husband and two children, instantly came up with a long list of people who’d be able to help.
‘Lily Shanahan, she’s the one you should talk to. Nearly ninety but doesn’t look a day over seventy. There’s no case of her mind going, either, let me tell you. She’s as sharp as a tack but in a lovely way,’ Yvonne added quickly. ‘Her family worked for the Lochravens and so did she when she was younger, although I don’t think she was ever as keen on them as her mother. She was the housekeeper for years and that woman idolised Lady Irene. But Lily, she wasn’t a fan of Lady Irene’s to-the-manor-born carry on. Still, she’ll have some stories of Rathnaree for you, I’m sure. There isn’t much around here that she hasn’t witnessed.’
Jodi wrote it all down quickly.
‘Do you think I should call her family first, to see if she’ll talk to me?’ Jodi asked, thinking that such an old lady might get a shock if a strange Australian woman approached her.
‘Lord no. There’s no need for formality with Lily. I’ll give you her phone number,’ Yvonne replied. ‘She lives on her own out on the Sea Road. She has a home help these days to do little jobs around the house, but she’s very independent.’
‘She has family, though?’ Jodi still thought she might approach Lily via someone else. A ninety-year-old was bound to be frail and anxious.
‘Her family are all lovely. There’s her nephew, Edward Kennedy, and his wife, Anneliese. I work with Anneliese in the Lifeboat Shop on Mondays. You say her name like it’s Anna-Lisa but it’s spelled an unusual way. It’s Austrian I think. They’re a gorgeous couple, Anneliese is a fabulous gardener. Green fingers, she has. Lily had a daughter, Alice, but she died, I’m afraid. Cancer. But Lily’s granddaughter, Izzie, she lives in New York and she works with supermodels. Not that you’d think it,’ Yvonne said, smiling. ‘Izzie’s very normal, despite the supermodels and everything. Lily more or less raised her, to be honest, and Lily is very down to earth.’