Family Ties

A Novel



Cover Page

Title Page

Copyright Page


Also by Danielle Steel

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

About the Author

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First published in the United States
in 2010 by Delacorte Press,
an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York

First published in Great Britain
in 2010 by Bantam Press
an imprint of Transworld Publishers

Copyright © Danielle Steel 2010

Danielle Steel has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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To my beloved, precious children,
Beatrix, Trevor, Todd, Nick,
Sam, Victoria, Vanessa,
Maxx, and Zara,
of whom I am so proud,
to whom I am so grateful,
for whom I live my life,
with whom life is a joyful adventure!
May the ties that bind us be
ever gentle and ever strong!

with all my love,

Also by Danielle Steel




The Story of Nick Traina



* Published outside the UK under the title PASSION’S PROMISE

For more information on Danielle Steel and her books, see her website at

Chapter 1

Seth Adams left Annie Ferguson’s West Village apartment on a sunny September Sunday afternoon. He was handsome, funny, intelligent, fun to be with, and they had been dating for two months. They had met at a Fourth of July picnic in the Hamptons, and he was as excited about his career as Annie was about her own. He had graduated from Harvard Business School two years before and was enjoying a meteoric rise at a Wall Street investment bank. Annie had graduated from Columbia Architecture School six months before, and she was reveling in the excitement of her first job with an important architecture group. It was her dream come true. And the handsome pair had spotted each other across a crowded room, and it was infatuation at first sight. It had been a great summer so far, and they were already talking about renting a ski house together with some of their friends. They were falling in love and looking forward to good times ahead.

Annie was having the time of her life: weekends with Seth, passionate lovemaking, happy times on the pretty little sailboat that he had just bought. She had it all, new man, new home, first big step in the career she had worked so hard for. She was on top of the world, twenty-six years old, tall, blond, beautiful. She had a smile that could have melted the world, and a lot to smile about. Her life these days was everything she had dreamed of.

She had to force Seth to leave that afternoon after another perfect weekend on his boat, but she had work to do. She wanted to spend some time on her first big project for a client meeting the following day. She knew she had to blow their socks off, and the plans she had been working on were meticulously done, and her immediate supervisor had shown a lot of respect for her ideas and was giving her a chance to shine. Annie was just sitting down at her drafting table when her cell phone rang. Although he had only left the apartment five minutes before, she thought it might be Seth. He called her sometimes on his way home, to tell her how much he already missed her.

She smiled, thinking of him, and then saw from the caller ID that it was Jane, her older sister by ten years. The two sisters were crazy about each other, and Jane had been like a mother to her since their parents had passed away when Annie was eighteen. Jane was happily married, lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, and had three adorable children. The two sisters looked almost like twins. Jane was a slightly older version of Annie, and she was looking forward to meeting Seth. He sounded like a keeper to her. All she hoped for Annie was that she would find someone as wonderful as her own husband Bill and be as happily married one day. Jane and Bill Marshall had been married for fourteen years and still acted like they were on their honeymoon. They were role models Annie hoped to emulate one day, but for now she was focused on her brand-new career, in spite of the delightful distraction provided by Seth for the past two months. Annie wanted to be a great architect one day.

“Is he there?” Jane asked conspiratorially, and her younger sister laughed. Jane was a freelance illustrator of children’s books and a proficient artist, but she had always been more interested in her husband and children than in her career. Bill was the publisher of a small but respected publishing house. They had spent the weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, closing up their summer house, and enjoying a romantic weekend away from their three kids.

“He just left,” Annie answered.

“Why so early?” Jane sounded disappointed for her.

“I have to work. I have a big presentation tomorrow, to an important client, and I wanted to work on the plans.”

“Good girl.” Jane was infinitely proud of her little sister. She was a star in her eyes. “We’ll be home in a couple of hours. We’re just leaving now. Bill is pre-flighting the plane. It was gorgeous here this weekend. I hate to close the house.” They loved the Vineyard, and so did their kids. They’d bought the house when their oldest, Lizzie, was born. She was twelve now, and the portrait of her mother. Ted was eight and looked just like Bill, with the same sweet nature and easygoing style. And Jane liked to say that her youngest, Katie, came from another planet. At five, she had opinions about everything, was incredibly bright, and was fearless. She was an old soul in a child’s body, and she always said that she and her aunt Annie were best friends. “How’s the weather in New York?” Jane asked her conversationally. It was hurricane season, but the weather at the Vineyard had been good.

“It’s been hot and sunny all weekend, but they say there’s a storm coming in tonight. It doesn’t look like it to me,” Annie answered.

“They’re expecting a storm here too—the wind picked up an hour ago, but it looks okay so far. Bill wants to get home before it starts.” He was waving to her from the plane then, and Jane grabbed her styrofoam cup of coffee and walked toward him, as she wound up the conversation with Annie. “I’ll call you when I get home. Don’t work too hard. . . . I love you. Why don’t you bring Seth out to dinner next weekend?”

“I’ll try. I may have to work, depending on how the meeting goes tomorrow. I love you too. Call me later,” Annie said comfortably as they hung up and she went back to work. She spread out the plans and studied them carefully. She could see a few adjustments she wanted to make, just subtle ones, but she was a perfectionist and wanted everything to be flawless the next day. She began slowly and meticulously making the changes she had thought about all weekend.

Jane got into the plane that was her husband’s pride and joy. He had been a Navy pilot, and in love with planes all his life. This was the biggest one he’d had. It was a Cessna 414 Chancellor that seated eight. It was perfect for them, their three children, and their babysitter Magdalena when she came to the Vineyard with them, which left room for two friends, or the mountain of shopping bags and suitcases that Jane always dragged back and forth between Greenwich and the Vineyard. The plane was a luxury, but it meant more to Bill than their house and was his most beloved possession. Jane always felt totally safe when Bill was flying, more so than on any commercial flight. He kept his license current and was instrument rated.

“Get your ass in here,” he said jokingly, as she pushed one more shopping bag into the plane. “There’s a storm coming, and I want to get us home before it hits.” The sky was darkening as he said it, and Jane’s long blond hair was flying in the wind. She hopped in, and he leaned over and kissed her, and then concentrated on the dials in front of him. He had clearance to leave, and they had instruments if the weather got socked in. Bill put the headphones on and talked to the tower as Jane pulled a magazine out of her bag. She loved trashy gossip magazines and reading about famous actresses and their romances and breakups, and discussing them with Annie as though the celebrities were their friends. Bill loved to tease them about it.

He carefully watched the sky as they took off in a stiff wind, and he rose quickly to the altitude he’d been assigned by the tower. They would be landing at Westchester County Airport in roughly an hour. It was an easy flight, and he had to pay attention to the traffic around Boston. He chatted amiably with the tower several times and smiled at Jane. They’d had a nice weekend. As much as he loved them, it was nice to get away from the kids and have her to himself.

“Annie sounds serious about her new guy,” Jane reported as he laughed.

“You’re not going to be happy until you marry her off.” He knew his wife well, and they both knew he was right. “She’s still a kid, and she just started her first job.”

“I was twenty-two when I married you,” she reminded him. “Annie is twenty-six.”

“You weren’t as serious about your career as she is. Give her a chance. She’s not exactly an old maid.” There was no way she ever would be. She was young and beautiful, and men were always pursuing her. But Bill was right—Annie wanted to get her career as an architect squared away before she settled down, which sounded sensible to him. And she loved being an aunt, but wasn’t ready to have kids.

Jane noticed that Bill was looking distracted then, and concentrating on the darkening sky. The air got choppy, and Jane could see that they were heading toward a storm. She didn’t say anything to Bill, she didn’t like to bother him when he was flying, so she looked out the window and then opened her magazine and took a sip of her coffee. A moment later, it splashed in her lap as the plane started to bounce.

“What was that?”

“There’s a storm coming up,” he said, with his eyes on the dials, and he let the controller know they were hitting a lot of chop, and got clearance to drop to a lower altitude. Jane could see a big airliner flying above them on their left, probably coming in from Europe, heading to Logan or JFK.

Their plane continued to bounce even at the lower altitude, and within minutes it grew worse, and Jane saw a bolt of lightning in the sky.

“Should we land?”

“No, we’re fine,” he smiled reassuringly, as it started to rain. They were over the Connecticut coast by then, and Bill turned to say something to her just when an explosion hit their left engine like a bomb, and the plane tipped crazily, as Bill concentrated on the controls.

“Shit, what was that?” Jane said hoarsely. Nothing like that had ever happened before, and Bill’s face was tense.

“I don’t know. It could be a fuel leak. I’m not sure,” he said tersely, as his jaw clenched. He was fighting to control the plane as they lost altitude rapidly, and with that the engine caught fire, and he guided the plane down looking for a clearing to land. Jane said not a word. She just watched as Bill fought to level them out again, but he couldn’t. They were listing badly and heading down at a frightening speed as he called in to the controller and told him where he was. “We’re going down, our left wing is on fire,” he said calmly, and Jane reached out and touched his arm. He never took his hand off the controls, and he told her he loved her. They were his last words as the Cessna hit the ground and exploded in a ball of fire.

Annie’s cell phone rang again just as she was erasing a change she had spent an hour making on the plans. She didn’t like it and was delicately changing it back. She was concentrating intensely, and then glanced at her phone lying on the drafting table. It was Jane, they had obviously gotten home. She almost didn’t answer it, she didn’t want to break her concentration, and Jane always wanted to chat.

Annie tried to ignore it, but the ringing was annoying and persistent, and finally she picked it up.

“Can I call you back?” she said as she answered, and was met by a flood of Spanish. Annie recognized the voice. It was Magdalena, the Salvadoran woman who took care of Jane and Bill’s kids. She sounded frantic. Annie knew these calls well. Magdalena had her number for when Bill and Jane were away. She usually only called Annie when one of the kids got hurt, but Annie knew that her sister would be home within minutes, if she wasn’t already there. She couldn’t understand a word Magdalena said in rapid Spanish.

“They’re on their way home,” Annie reassured her. Usually it was Ted who had fallen out of a tree or off a ladder or bumped his head. He was an active boy and accident prone. The girls were a lot more sedate. Lizzie was almost a teenager, and Katie was a fireball, but she was more verbal than athletic and had never gotten hurt. “I talked to Jane two hours ago,” Annie said calmly. “They should be home any minute.”

With that, Magdalena exploded in another torrent of Spanish. She sounded as though she was crying, and the only word Annie understood was la policia. The police.

“What about the police? Are the kids okay?” Maybe one of them really had gotten seriously injured. So far it had only been small stuff, except for Ted’s broken leg when he fell out of a tree at the Vineyard and his parents were there. “Tell me in English,” Annie insisted. “What happened? Who got hurt?”

“Your sister . . . the police call . . . the plane . . .” Annie felt as though she had been shot out of a cannon and was spinning in midair. Everything was in slow motion, and she could feel herself reeling at the words.

“What did they say?” Annie managed to grind out the words through the shards of glass in her throat. Every word she formed was a physical pain. “What happened? What did the police SAY?” She was shouting at Magdalena and didn’t know it. And all Magdalena could do was sob. “TELL ME, DAMMIT!” Annie shouted at her, as Magdalena tried to tell her in English.

“I don’t know . . . something happen . . . I call her cell phone and she not answer . . . they say . . . they say . . . the plane catch fire. It was the police in New London.”

“I’ll call you back,” Annie said, and hung up on her. She finally got a police emergency number in New London, that referred her to another number. A voice asked her who she was, and after she told them, there was an interminable silence on the other end of the phone.

“Are you nearby?” the voice wanted to know.

“No, I’m not nearby,” Annie said, torn between a sob and an urge to shout at this unknown woman. Something terrible had happened. She was praying they were only hurt. “I’m in New York,” she explained. “What happened to the plane?” She gave them the call numbers of Bill’s plane, and a different voice came on the phone. He said he was a captain, and he told her what she didn’t want to know and never wanted to hear. He said the plane had exploded on impact and there were no survivors. He asked her if she knew who was on the plane.

“My sister and her husband,” Annie whispered, as she stared blindly into space. This hadn’t happened. It wasn’t possible. This couldn’t happen to them. But it had. She had no idea what to say next so she thanked the captain and hung up. She told him he could contact her at her sister’s home in Greenwich and gave him the number. And then she grabbed her purse and walked out of the apartment without even turning out the lights.

Later, she could not remember getting into her car or traveling to Greenwich in a driving rain. She had no memory of it whatsoever. The promised storm had hit New York. She left her car in the driveway in Greenwich and was drenched when she got to the house. Magdalena was crying in the kitchen. The kids were upstairs watching a movie, waiting for their parents to come home. And when they heard the door slam as Annie walked in, they came running to see their mom and dad, and what they saw instead was her, standing dripping in the living room, her hair plastered to her head, the tears running down her face like rain.

“Where are Mom and Dad?” Ted asked, looking confused, and Lizzie stared at her with wide eyes. The moment she saw Annie standing there, she knew, and her hand flew to her mouth.

“Mom and Dad . . .,” Lizzie said with a look of horror, and Annie nodded as she ran halfway up the stairs to them and put her arms around all three. They clung to her like a life raft in a stormy sea, as the realization hit Annie with the force of a wrecking ball. Now all three of them were hers.

Chapter 2

The next days were a total nightmare. She had to tell them. Lizzie was devastated. Ted hid in the garage after he heard the news. Katie cried inconsolably. And at first Annie had no idea what to do. She went to New London to speak to the police. The wreckage of Bill’s plane was charred beyond recognition. There were no bodies, they had been blown to bits.

Somehow she managed to make the “arrangements.” She held a dignified funeral for them, and half of Greenwich came. Bill’s publishing associates came out from New York to pay their respects. And Annie had called her office and explained that she needed to take a week or two off and couldn’t make the presentation.

She moved into Bill and Jane’s house and went back to the city to get her things. The new apartment she loved was history. It had only one bedroom, and she didn’t want to uproot the children so soon, so she’d have to commute to the city. Magdalena agreed to move in. And Annie had to adjust to the idea that suddenly she was a twenty-six-year-old woman with three children. Jane and Bill had talked to her about it, that if anything happened to them, she would have to step in for them. Bill had no close relatives, and Annie and Jane’s own parents were dead. There was no one to take care of them now except Annie, and all four of them had to make the best of it. There was no other choice. And Annie’s vow to Jane the night before the funeral was to devote her life to their children and do the best she could. She had no idea how to be a mom, all she had ever been was a fun aunt, and now she would have to learn. She couldn’t even imagine stepping into their shoes, and she knew she was a poor substitute for parents like Bill and Jane, but she was all they had.

Seth had the grace to wait until a week after the funeral before he came to see her in Greenwich. He took her to dinner at a quiet place. He told her he was crazy about her, but he was twenty-nine years old, and there was no way he could take on a woman with three children. He said he had had a terrific time with her for the past two months, but this was way, way over his head. She said she understood. She didn’t cry, she wasn’t mad at him. She was numb. She said nothing after he explained the situation to her, and he drove her back to the house in silence. He tried to kiss her goodbye, and she turned her head away and walked into the house without a word to him. She had more important things to do now, like bring up three children. They had become a family overnight, and Seth wasn’t part of it, and didn’t want to be. She couldn’t imagine a man who would. She had grown up instantly the moment the plane had hit the ground.

* * *

Nine months later, in June, at the end of the school year, Annie moved them into the city, to an apartment she had rented, not far from the one she had just moved into when her sister died. This one had three bedrooms. And she signed the kids up in school in New York. Lizzie had turned thirteen by then, Ted was nine, and Katie six. Since she had been with them, Annie had done nothing but rush from work to home, to be with the kids. She spent the weekends taking Katie to ballet and Ted to soccer games. She took Lizzie shopping. She started Ted at the orthodontist and went to school meetings when she wasn’t working late. The architecture firm she worked for had been understanding about it. And with Magdalena covering for her, she managed to stay on top of her projects. And eventually she even got a promotion and a raise.

Bill and Jane had left their children comfortably provided for. Bill had made some good investments, the house in Greenwich sold for an excellent price, and so did the one on Martha’s Vineyard, and there had been an insurance policy for the children. They had what they needed financially, if Annie was careful with it, but they didn’t have a mom and dad. They had an aunt. They were patient with Annie while she learned. There were some bumps and some sad times for them all at first, but in time they all got used to the hand they’d been dealt. And Magdalena stayed.

In time, Annie got them through high school, through their first romances, and helped them apply to college. By the time he was fourteen Ted had decided to go to law school. Lizzie was obsessed with fashion and wanted to be a model for a while. And Kate had her mother’s artistic talent, but unlike the rest of them, she marched to her own drummer. She used her allowance to get her ears pierced at thirteen, and then her belly button, to Annie’s horror. She dyed her hair blue and then purple, and at eighteen she got a tattoo of a unicorn on the inside of her wrist, which must have hurt like hell when she got it. And she was a talented artist like her mother. She got accepted at Pratt School of Design and was a very capable illustrator. She looked like no one Annie had ever known. She was tiny, fiercely independent, and very brave. She had strong beliefs about everything, including politics, and argued with anyone who didn’t agree with her, and wasn’t afraid to stand alone. She had been a handful in her teens but eventually settled down once she got to college and moved into the dorm. Ted had his own apartment by then, and got a job after college, before he went to law school. Liz was working for Elle. Bringing up her sister’s children had been Annie’s vocation and full-time job. She had no other life but theirs and her work.

At thirty-five, Annie had opened her own architecture office, after nine years with the same firm. She loved what she did and preferred residential jobs to the big corporate ones she had done for years. After four years in her own firm, she had found her niche. And she was stunned by how much she missed the children when they moved out. It gave the term “empty nest” new meaning, and she filled the void in her life with more work instead of people.

She hadn’t had a date for the first three years the children lived with her, and after that there had been some minor relationships, but never a serious one. She didn’t have time. She was too busy taking care of her nieces and nephew and establishing herself as an architect. There was no room for a man in her life. Her closest friend, Whitney Coleman, scolded her for it regularly. They had been friends since college, and Whitney was married to a doctor in New Jersey, with three kids of her own, younger than the Marshall children. She had been a source of endless support for Annie, and invaluable advice, and now all she wanted was for Annie to think of herself. She had thought of everyone else for thirteen years. The time had moved like a bullet in the night. The early years had been a blur, but after that, Annie had truly enjoyed the children she had raised. She had lived up to the vow she had made Jane and she had gotten the children grown up, and all three were doing well.

“Now what?” Whitney said to her after Kate moved into the dorm. “What are you going to do for yourself?” It was a question Annie hadn’t asked herself in thirteen years.

“What am I supposed to do? Stand on a street corner and whistle for a guy, like a cab?” She was thirty-nine years old and not panicked about being single. She didn’t mind. Things had turned out differently than she’d planned, but she was happy.

The kids were all good people, her architecture firm was a success, and she had more work than she could handle. She was doing well, and so were they. Ted had just applied to law school and had gotten a new apartment with a friend from college, and at twenty-five, Liz had just landed a job at Vogue, after working for three years at Elle. Each of them was on a career path. Annie had done her job. The only thing she didn’t have was a life of her own, other than work. They were her life, and she insisted that was all she needed.

“That’s ridiculous!” Whitney said irreverently. “You’re not a hundred years old, for chrissake. And you have no excuse not to date now—the kids are grown up.” She had fixed Annie up with several blind dates, none of which had worked out, and Annie said she didn’t care.

“If I’m meant to meet a guy, it’ll happen one of these days,” she said philosophically. “Besides, I’m too set in my ways now. And I want to spend holidays and vacations with the kids. A man would interfere with that. And it might upset them.”

“Don’t you want more in your life than just being an aunt?” Whitney asked her sadly. It didn’t seem fair to Whitney that Annie had sacrificed her own life for her sister’s children, but she didn’t seem to mind, and she was happy as she was. Her own biological clock had run out of batteries years before, without a sound. She had three children she loved and didn’t want more.

“I’m happy,” Annie reassured her, and she seemed to be. The two women met for lunch when Whitney came into the city, usually to go shopping. And Annie went to New Jersey for the weekend once in a while, after the kids were gone, but most of the time she was too busy working on weekends to go anywhere. And her work was beautiful. There were several handsome townhouses on the Upper East Side that she had renovated, spectacular penthouses, and several beautiful estates in the Hamptons, and one in Bronxville. And she had turned a number of brownstones into offices for clients. Her business was booming and continued to grow. She had just turned down a job in Los Angeles, and another in London, because she said she didn’t have time to travel. She was happy working in New York. And basically she was happy with her life, and it showed. She had done exactly what she wanted and what she’d promised. She had accompanied her nieces and nephew from childhood to young adulthood, and she didn’t mind the sacrifices she’d had to make at all. And by the time she was forty-two, Annie was one of the most successful architects in New York, and loved practicing on her own.

It was the day before Thanksgiving, on a freezing-cold morning, as Annie walked through the gutted interior of a townhouse on East Sixty-ninth Street with a couple who had hired her two months before. The house represented an enormous investment for them, and they wanted Annie to turn it into a spectacular home. It was hard to visualize as they climbed over the rubble the workmen had left after taking out several walls. Annie was showing them the proportions of the newly enlarged living room and dining room and where the grand staircase was going to go. She had a unique talent for combining ancient and contemporary designs and making it look both avant-garde and warm, although it was hard to imagine right now.

The husband was questioning her intensely about the costs, and his wife was looking anxious now that she saw the state of total chaos the house was in. Annie had promised them it would be complete in a year.

“Do you really think you can get us in by next fall?” Alicia Ebersohl said nervously.

“This contractor is very good. He’s never let me down yet,” Annie said, smiling pleasantly at them. She looked calm and unruffled, as she stepped over several beams. She was wearing gray slacks, stylish black leather boots, and a heavy coat with a fur-lined hood. She still looked considerably younger than she was.

“He’ll probably bring it in at twice the price. I had no idea we were going to destroy this much of the house,” Harry Ebersohl commented with a look of dismay.

“We’re just making room. You’re going to need these walls for your art.” She had been working closely with their interior designer, and everything was in control. “Three months from now you’ll start to see the beauty of the house emerge.”

“I hope so,” Alicia said softly, but she no longer looked so sure. They had loved their friends’ house that Annie had done, and had begged her to take this job, and once Annie saw the house she couldn’t resist, although she already had too much on her plate as it was. “I hope we didn’t make a mistake with this house,” Alicia said, as her husband shook his head in despair.

“It’s a little late to be saying that now,” he grumbled as they went back downstairs and headed toward the front door. When they opened it, they stepped out into an icy blast, and Annie pulled the fur hood up over her blond hair. Both Ebersohls had already commented to each other how pretty she was, and that she apparently was good at what she did too, from everything they’d heard.

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Annie said easily, as she walked them to their car with the plans under her arm.

“Our kids are coming home tonight.” Alicia smiled. Annie knew that both of them were in college, one at Princeton, and the other one at Dartmouth, a girl and a boy.

“So are mine.” Annie smiled happily. She couldn’t wait. All three had promised to stay with her over Thanksgiving, as they always did. Her favorite times were when they came home.

“I didn’t know you had children.” Alicia looked surprised as Annie nodded. She never talked about her personal life, just the job. She was the consummate professional in every way, which was why they had hired her. The information that she had children startled both Ebersohls.

“I have three. Actually, they’re my nieces and nephew. My sister died in an accident sixteen years ago, and I inherited her kids. They’re grown up now. The oldest is an editor at Vogue, my nephew is in his second year at law school, and the youngest is in college. I miss them like crazy, so it’s a treat for me when they come home.” Annie was smiling as she said it, and the Ebersohls looked amazed.

“What a wonderful thing to do. Not everyone would have taken that on. You must have been very young.” She hardly looked thirty now, but they knew her age from her credentials on her website.

“I was very young.” Annie smiled at them. “We all grew up together, and it’s been a great blessing for me. I’m very proud of them.” They chatted for a few more minutes, and then the Ebersohls got in their car and drove away. Harry was still looking worried, but Annie had promised him the work would come in at the price she’d quoted them, and Alicia was talking excitedly about the grand staircase when they left.

Annie glanced at her watch as she hailed a cab. She had five minutes to get to Seventy-ninth and Fifth to meet with a new client. Jim Watson had just bought a co-op and didn’t know exactly what he wanted. All he knew was that he wanted it to be fabulous, and he wanted Annie to make magic with it. She was meeting with him to give him some ideas. Jim was recently divorced and wanted a fantastic bachelor pad. It was a shift of mental gears as she rode uptown, and just before she got there, her cell phone rang. It was Liz. She sounded nervous and rushed. She always was. She had recently become the jewelry editor at Vogue, and she had just gotten back from Milan. She had come home to be with Annie and her siblings for Thanksgiving. It was a sacred date for all four of them. Annie was going to cook the turkey as she did every year.

“How was Milan?” Annie asked her, happy to hear her voice. She worried about her. Liz worked so hard, and she was always so stressed. She never had time to eat and had been much too thin for the past three years. It was the look everyone aspired to at Vogue.

“It was crazy but fun. I ran around for four days. We spent the weekend in Venice, which is dismal in the winter. And I spent a day in Paris on the way back. I picked out some great pieces for the shoot I’m doing next week.” If possible, she worked even harder than Annie, or just as hard. “Can I bring Jean-Louis tomorrow?” she asked Annie, and knew she would say yes. The question was just a formality, out of respect. Annie had welcomed their friends and significant others for all the years they’d lived together and since. “I didn’t know he was coming. He just flew in today. He has a shoot here this weekend.” They had met while working together in Paris, and Jean-Louis kept a loft in New York for his frequent visits. He was a successful photographer and almost identical to all the men Lizzie had had in her life. They were either photographers or male models, always handsome, never too deep, and Liz never got too attached. Annie often wondered if losing her parents had made Liz gun-shy about getting too close to anyone. Her romances never lasted long. She was surprised that Jean-Louis had been around for a while. Lizzie had been going out with him for six months.

“Of course you can bring him.” Annie had only met him once. He seemed nice enough, but she hadn’t been too impressed.

“What time should we come?”

“Same as every year. Come at noon, lunch at one. Or you can come home tonight if you want. Ted and Katie are spending the weekend.”

“I promised Jean-Louis I’d stay with him,” Liz said, sounding apologetic. “I’m going to help him with his shoot, unofficially. I’m pulling some jewelry for him today.”

“He’s a lucky guy,” Annie said, and meant it, and not just because Liz was helping him with his work. Liz always gave better than she got. The men she got involved with were always selfish and spoiled, and Annie worried that she sold herself short. She was a beautiful, talented, intelligent young woman. It shocked Annie sometimes when she realized that at twenty-eight, Liz was two years older than she had been when she inherited all of them. And in some ways Liz seemed so young. And she never seemed to think about marriage or settling down. Annie realized that she hadn’t set them much of an example on that score, since all she did herself was work, and take care of them when they were young. They had rarely if ever seen her with a date. She had kept the few men in her life well away from them, and there hadn’t been many anyway, and none she had cared about seriously. The last man she had been crazy about had been Seth, sixteen years before. She had run into him once a few years ago—he was married, lived in Connecticut, and had four kids. He had tried to explain to her how bad he felt that he hadn’t stepped up to the plate for her when her sister died, and she had laughed and brushed it off and told him she was fine. But it had given her a little flutter to see him. He was as handsome as he’d been before, and she had told Whitney about it. It all seemed like ancient history now.

Liz was in the process of apologizing to Annie that Jean-Louis hadn’t brought decent clothes with him, since he’d be working, and Annie assured her it didn’t matter. None of the men in Liz’s life ever owned a suit. Whether successful photographers or famous models, they always showed up in ragged clothes, with long hair and beards. It was the look she seemed to like, or the one most prevalent in her milieu. Annie had grown used to it over the years, although she would have loved to see her with a decently dressed guy with a haircut, just once.

In contrast, Liz was always stylish beyond belief and gave Annie fashion tips and even occasionally brought her clothes. It was always fun to see what Liz would wear. Annie’s style was simpler and more practical than hers. She felt too old now for wild clothes, and she had to wear things she could get around her job sites in without freezing or falling on her face in stiletto heels. Liz was tall, like her late mother and her aunt, and never wore anything less than six-inch heels. They were considered running shoes at the magazines where she had worked.

“See you tomorrow,” Lizzie said, as Annie arrived at the address on Fifth Avenue and took the elevator up to the top floor where Jim Watson was waiting for her, looking slightly dazed. He was suddenly terrified that the place was too big for him, and he said he had no idea how to decorate it without his ex-wife’s help. Annie assured him she would take care of everything for him, and she took some sketches out of her briefcase, and as he looked at them, he smiled. Annie had imagined the perfect bachelor pad for him, even before he knew what he wanted himself. He was thrilled. And she walked through each room describing it to him, and bringing her ideas to life.

“You’re amazing!” he said happily, and unlike Harry Ebersohl, he wasn’t worried about the cost. He just wanted something that would impress his friends and the women he wanted to date. And better than that, Annie was going to give him a home. She promised him a delivery date of nine months. And they stood on the terrace together looking out at Central Park as it started to snow.

He was forty-five years old, and one of the richest men in New York. He was looking at Annie with interest, as she talked to him about the apartment. She was completely oblivious to the way he was looking at her. Any other single woman her age would have been doing her best to charm him, but she was always professional with her clients. All he was to her was a job. It made no difference to her whatsoever that he had a yacht in St. Barts and his own plane. She was interested in the apartment, not the man. Annie was friendly but totally businesslike in her manner. He suspected that she had a husband or boyfriend, but he didn’t dare ask.

Annie left an hour after she arrived. She promised to send him plans within two weeks and wished him a happy Thanksgiving. She was totally clear on what he wanted and what she was going to do for him. He told her he was leaving for Aspen that night, to spend the holiday with friends. And he stood at the window, watching the snow fall on Central Park after she left.

The apartment was silent and empty when Annie got home, just as it was every night. It was so different now than when the children still lived there. There were none of Kate’s clothes on the floor, strewn around the living room. Ted’s TV wasn’t on. Liz wasn’t dashing in and out, brandishing a curling iron, late for whatever she was doing, with no time to eat. The fridge wasn’t full. Kate’s briefly vegan meals weren’t left all over the sink. The music wasn’t on. Their friends weren’t there. The phone didn’t ring. The house was empty, neat, and clean, and Annie still wasn’t used to it, even three years after Kate had left for college. Annie suspected that it was a void she would never be able to fill. Her sister had given her the greatest gift in life, and time had slowly taken it from her. She knew that it was right for them to grow up and leave, but she hated it anyway, and nothing made her happier than when they came home.

She went out to the kitchen and started organizing things for the next day. She had just stacked the good plates on the kitchen counter, getting ready to set the table, when she heard the front door slam and what sounded like a load of bricks being dumped in her front hall. She gave a start at the wall-shuddering sound and stuck her head out the kitchen door, as Kate dumped her backpack on the floor where her books lay. She had an enormous artist’s portfolio in one hand and stood grinning at Annie in a black miniskirt, a black hooded sweatshirt with a shocking pink skull on it, and silver combat boots that Annie knew she had found at a garage sale somewhere. She was wearing black-and white-striped tights that made her look like a punk Raggedy Ann, and her short jet-black hair stood up all over her head. What saved the whole look was her exquisite face. She came bounding across the living room and threw her arms around Annie’s neck. The two women hugged as Annie beamed. This was what she had lived for, for sixteen years.

“Hi, Annie,” Kate said happily, then planted a kiss on her cheek and bounded toward the fridge. The look of bliss on her aunt’s face said it all.

“Am I happy to see you! Are you vegan this week?” Annie teased her.

“No, I gave it up. I missed meat too much.” She helped herself to a banana, sat down on one of the kitchen chairs, and smiled lovingly at her aunt. “Where’s everyone?” she asked as she peeled the banana and stuffed a chunk of it into her mouth. The way she did it made her look about five years old instead of twenty-one.

“Ted should be here any minute. And Lizzie is coming tomorrow. She’s bringing Jean-Louis.” Katie looked unimpressed, went to get a CD out of her backpack, and put it in the machine that had been silent since the last time she’d been there. It was one by the Killers, which sounded like the rest of her music to Annie.

“I got a new tattoo, wanna see?” she asked proudly as Annie groaned.

“Can I still ground you at twenty-one?” Annie asked as Katie pulled up her sleeve to show off a colored Tweety Bird on her forearm. “You should get one too,” Kate teased her. She knew how much her aunt hated them. “I designed it myself. I did some designs for the tattoo parlor, and they gave me this one for free.”

“I’d have paid you double not to do it. How are you going to feel about having Tweety Bird on your arm when you’re fifty?”

“I’ll worry about it then,” Kate said, looking around the familiar kitchen, and obviously happy to be home. “I’ll set the table,” she volunteered. And when Annie went to get the tablecloth out of a drawer in the dining room, she saw Katie’s belongings spread all over the front hall. It looked good to her. The house was much too pristine without them. She loved the mess, the noise, the music, the funny hair, the silver boots. It was everything that she missed.

They were setting the table together when Ted walked in half an hour later. He was wearing a heavy parka, a gray crew-neck sweater, jeans, and running shoes and had come straight from school. His hair was short, and he was clean shaven, a tall, handsome boy with dark hair and light gray eyes. He looked preppy and wholesome and of no possible relation to Katie, with her wild clothes, row of pierced earrings, and brand-new Tweety Bird tattoo. She showed it to him, and he made a face. The girls Ted went out with were always blond and blue eyed and looked like his mother and aunt. It was hard to believe that he and Katie had grown up in the same house.

He gave his aunt a warm hug and turned the TV on to a hockey game. He didn’t want to miss the end. They ordered pizza for dinner, and the three of them laughed and chatted at the kitchen table when it came. Ted talked about law school, and Annie showed them some of the work she’d brought home in her portfolio, and it was very good. She had real talent. The TV and music were both on. The table was set for Thanksgiving, and as Annie looked at the two young people in her kitchen, all was well in her world. Katie’s things were still in a heap in the front hall at midnight, when Annie finally picked them up and took them to her room. There was a time when she would have complained about it and scolded Kate for the mess she made. Now it warmed her heart to see it, and she was just happy to have them home.

Chapter 3

Annie was up before dawn the next morning, moving silently around the kitchen, as she made the stuffing, put it in the turkey, and then slid the huge bird into the oven. She checked the dining room, and the table she and Katie had set the night before looked lovely. She was back in bed by seven, and decided to get a little more sleep before they all got up. She knew that Ted and Katie would sleep late.

Annie managed to get two more hours’ sleep before her friend Whitney called and woke her at nine.

“Did I wake you? You’re lucky. The boys have been driving me crazy for the past two hours. They’ve already had two breakfasts, the one I made them, and the one they made themselves.” Annie smiled when she heard her and stretched in her bed. She even slept better when the kids were home. She could no longer imagine what her life would have been like without them. Whitney always said that without her two nieces and nephew, Annie probably would have been married and had kids of her own. Annie wasn’t as sure. She might have just concentrated on her career. Since Seth, no Prince Charming had ever come along. At least not so far. Just a few men she had gotten briefly involved with but never fallen in love with. And within a short time the relationships had fallen apart. She had too much else to do to devote herself to a man, and their existence in her life always interfered with her main commitment, to her sister’s children. There had been no room for them and a man too. “Are all three of them home?” Whitney asked her.

“No, just Ted and Katie. Liz is staying with her boyfriend.”

“Is this one serious?” She would have loved to have a daughter and envied Annie the two girls. All her boys wanted to do was play sports. She missed having a daughter to fuss over, but hadn’t dared try again for fear of having a fourth son, and always said that that much testosterone under one roof would have done her in. Three sons and a husband were enough for her.

“He looks like all the others,” Annie said, referring to Jean-Louis. “He commutes between New York and Paris, and Liz works so hard she doesn’t see him much. She’s focused on her career.”