Copyright © 1997, 2010 by Ciji Ware
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Cover design by Cathleen Elliott/Fly Leaf Design
Cover images © Lands End, Cornwall, 1888 (oil on canvas), Richards, William Trost (1833-1905) / © Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH, USA / Museum Purchase 1919 / The Bridgeman Art Library International; An Old World Cottage Garden, Tyndale, Thomas Nicholson (1858-1936) / Private Collection / © Mallett Gallery, London, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library International; Peter Frank/Veer.com
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Originally published in 1997 by Fawcett Gold Medal, The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ware, Ciji. A cottage by the sea / Ciji Ware.
1. Americans—England—Cornwall (County)—Fiction. 2. Family secrets— Fiction. 3. Cornwall (England : County)—Fiction. I. Title. PS3573.A7435C68 2010 813'.54—dc22
Dedicated to my English cousins, the late Edd North and Gay North, of Cornwall, who discovered "Barton Hall," and whose hospitality made researching and writing this
novel a joyful experience.
In tribute to William Moffett, 1933-1995, director of the
Huntington Library in San Marino, California—brave
scholar, treasured friend, storyteller, mentor, and guardian
of the written word.
In memory of novelist Daphne du Maurier, 1907-1989, spinner of magical tales set in Cornwall that have inspired
generations of writers and readers.
And, finally, with deep appreciation for The National Trust, savior of the Cornish coast and so much more.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar…
—William Wordsworth, 1770-1850
n Blythe Barton Stowe's considered opinion, justice would have been better served if the earthquake fault that ran under the Los Angeles County Courthouse had simply cracked open and swallowed her husband's vulgar white stretch limousine, passenger and all.
Instead the showy vehicle that just last March had delivered its owner to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oscar night now inched through a platoon of hectoring paparazzi. Cameras clicked and camcorders whirled as Christopher Stowe's liveried chauffeur steered his behemoth to a halt in the handicapped zone at First and Hill Streets.
Looking down several floors from an anteroom that led into the judge's chambers, Blythe's companion, lawyer Lisa Spector, muttered under her breath, "Why don't the cops ever ticket those bastards?"
"Hey, gal," Blythe retorted, affecting her best Wyoming twang, "this here's Holly-weird. The guy down there on the street just won an Oscar, remember? He can do anything he goddamn pleases in this town."
Instantly she regretted her display of bitter animosity, a reaction that too often surfaced at the slightest mention of Christopher Stowe. She inhaled deeply and slowly forced her breath out through her lips, hoping to clear her system of the corrosive hostility that had built up like rust on a barbed-wire fence. Meanwhile she continued to stare down through the tinted windows in the County Courthouse building, which overlooked the media circus unfolding in the sultry May sunshine.
On the sidewalk below, the
not to mention television crews from several low-life celebrity TV shows, had stringers with cell phones staking out every possible approach to the public building—the place where California residents, famous and otherwise, came to render their marriage contracts null and void.
Inside, Blythe, Lisa, and the rest of a small, subdued group continued to wait in the family law section of the courthouse for the most celebrated—and notorious—British film director in the world to make his tardy appearance.
As Blythe glanced around Judge Alan Hawkins's private domain, her experienced eye told her that the book-lined chambers provided a well-appointed setting for the drama that would soon take place. Even the supporting cast members— including His Honor—were standing on their marks. The entire scene was a production designer's dream, except it was about to become this production designer's nightmare.
Oh, God, Christopher! Why would you do this to us?
Once again Blythe cast her eyes on the sidewalk theatrics through large tortoiseshell sunglasses that mercifully shielded her eyes. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience as she watched one of L.A.'s high-profile divorce attorneys emerge from Christopher's ludicrously long vehicle. Within seconds her handsome husband of eleven years, sporting his darkblond "director's ponytail," stepped out too. The excited journalists pressed forward as the man of the hour leisurely unfolded his six-foot frame and stood to his full height.
Blythe watched with numb curiosity as the figure who had been her lover, mentor, husband, and business partner slowly surveyed the throng, almost as if he were calculating the best angle for filming his next scene.
It was just like an exterior shot from that old seventies film
Kramer vs. Kramer,
Blythe thought, only there was no six-year-old child for them to fight over.
Then she sighed with a mixture of exasperation and despair. Why did she keep seeing her life as if she were watching a film? she wondered. It was a ridiculous habit. However, she was incapable of pulling her gaze away from this real-life movie screen and continued to watch the award-winning director as he selected a leggy brunette on which to bestow a wistful smile and melancholy gaze from his arresting blue eyes. He paused curbside to speak earnestly to the striking woman co-anchor of a nightly network news program on "special assignment" as the cameras rolled.
Here we had the sexy, "bankable" director, quizzed about his personal life by the easy-on-the-eyes news hen who had joined him for dinner once too often during the promo tour for his latest film.
You stroke my back, I'll stroke yours, and every
Well, not everybody, Blythe pondered silently.
"Blythe," Lisa said
, abruptly calling to a halt her client's unhealthy musings. "Come in here for a moment, would you?" urged the Armani-clad attorney, nodding in the direction of a small conference room adjacent to the judge's private chambers.
Blythe's lawyer closed the door and then placed her thick briefcase on top of the highly polished table where untold litigants had mediated their matrimonial breakdowns. Blythe and Christopher's agreement, however, was already a Done Deal, in Hollywood parlance, and Blythe wondered why Lisa had ushered her into the claustrophobic chamber.
Her attorney pulled a pile of colored newsprint from inside her attaché case.
"These aren't pleasant to look at, I realize," Lisa said crisply, "but I want your permission to use them today, in case we run into a snag during the final-settlement conference."
"I thought you said everything
settled," Blythe protested, apprehensively scanning the screaming headlines of a number of salacious tabloids that contained the unsavory details of her impending divorce.
"Heartbroken Blythe!" one newspaper wailed at her.
Behind the large-type headlines was an unflattering photo of her clad in jeans and a sweatshirt captured by some low-life photographer who had laid in wait in the bushes behind her new condo. Blythe stared at the color picture, mesmerized by her own startled expression, which gave her the aspect of someone caught in a stealthy, underhanded act—in her case, depositing a bulging plastic bag filled with garbage in a large trash bin. Her curly, shoulder-length auburn hair looked wildly unkempt, as if she'd stuck her finger in an electric socket. Her brown eyes sported matching dark circles, indicating she hadn't slept for days—which she hadn't. The photograph, taken with a harsh flash at dawn's light when she erroneously thought it would be safe to leave her house, had transformed her tall, slender frame into a wraithlike specter— possibly an escapee from a women's prison camp. Definitely not a pretty picture.
The pull quotes inside the article were cloyingly sympathetic, however, describing in riveting detail how Christopher Stowe's extramarital high jinks had triply cheated his talented American wife out of a handsome, wealthy husband, an award-winning business partner, and a father of the baby she had wanted to conceive—but hadn't.
"I doubt I'll have to bring any of these up," Lisa was saying, shuffling through the pile of tabloids, "but just in case they pull any tricks…"
Lisa allowed her sentence to trail off as she pointed a perfectly manicured vermilion nail at another headline that shouted "Blythe's Untold Anguish." The overheated subhead read: "Movie-Town Wife Rushes to Dying Grandmother's Side While Stowe Cavorts with Mystery Woman in Director's Trailer!" She glanced at the lead paragraph. "Left motherless at age eleven, production designer Blythe Barton Stowe raced against time to be near her beloved grandmother, Lucinda Barton, seventy-eight, who lay dying of a stroke in the pioneer family's log ranch house in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
"The tragedy unfolded while her husband, director of the box-office smash
"What's the point?" Blythe said in a monotone, pushing from her mind an unspeakable memory. "Nobody believes this stuff."
"The point is that we know—and they know we know—that in this case most of it happens to be true," Lisa said patiently.
Blythe's gaze drifted to another edition of supermarket fare. This tabloid cried out "Blythe's Secret Tragedy." She sucked in her breath as she stared at a black-and-white photo of her brother's body being carried out on a gurney from the rodeo arena in Jackson. The image showed seventeen- year-old Matt Barton's neck canted at an odd angle. In the background of the photo sat a shadowy female figure on a horse.
"How in the world did they ever dig that up?" she murmured. Matt would have been thirty years old this year. She allowed herself an instant to consider what the engaging carrot-headed teenager would have been like as a full-grown man.
"However disgusting these rags are, they speak of the way in which your husband has irreparably damaged you," Lisa said, bypassing Blythe's melancholy question. "If the other side suddenly decides to challenge the numbers today, I want to be able to show that you're a celebrity in your own right. I don't think they'll try to pull anything like that," she hastened to add, glancing at Blythe's stricken expression, "but I want to make clear, if they do, that you are not merely his wife… that you
every cent of this settlement—both in your role as production designer on the five films, and as Chris's full partner in Stowe and Stowe Productions."
"But Chris knows all that!" Blythe insisted. "You don't think his lawyers would try to—"
"It's important to have ammunition at hand," Lisa interrupted tersely, "should we need to prove in court how much you stand to lose professionally, financially—and emotionally—if this scandal results in your not being able to carry on with a reasonably normal life in this town."
"Gee… thanks for reminding me."
Like her hard-nosed attorney, Blythe had also been worried that potential employers in the film industry who weren't familiar with her work might assume she'd served as production designer on Chris's films due to nepotism. On the other hand, those who had worked with her might now fear to offend "The Great One," and decline to hire her.
What her lawyer didn't understand—what nobody in this glitzy, self-indulgent community would ever fathom—was that no job and no amount of money could ever put her family back together or bring Lucinda Barton back to life. A hundred-million-dollar divorce settlement couldn't make up for the loss of the woman who'd raised Blythe or the brother who'd shared her love of horses. What price tag would equal the pain of knowing that her father, his own heart battered by a series of losses, was thinking of selling the ranch that had been in the Barton family for generations?