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Aly Kingston has only ever loved one man: Marshall Wayne. But she put all of those childish dreams behind her ages ago when the Waynes left town. Her father’s victory at foreclosing on the Wayne family farm, the betrayal written all over Marshall’s face-it all still lingers in her mind and in her heart. But now, years later, when he comes back home to Claiborne, Aly realizes so much has changed since Marshall’s been away . . . and so much remains the same.
Seeing Aly again surprises Marshall Wayne. Gone is the gangly girl who followed him around. In her place is a beautiful woman with warmth and sensitivity, someone who makes him want to believe in love again. But Marshall is back home for one reason and one reason alone: to get revenge on the man who destroyed his family and to reclaim what rightfully belongs to him.
As the past and the present collide, will Aly lose her heart to the man who’s plotting to destroy her family? Or can she show Marshall that love runs deeper than vengeance?
A Letter to My Friends, Fans, Readers of My Later-In-Life Novels and Newcomers to the Books of Leila Meacham
Aly’s House is another in the series of three romance novels I wrote in the mid-eighties. For those of you who are familiar with my much later novels only—Roses, Tumbleweeds, Somerset, and Titans—you’ll no doubt notice the difference in the physical size and narrative scope and writing quality of this book. Pray, don’t be too harsh in your judgment. Aly’s House represents one of my first sorties into the field of fiction writing and was written under the coercion of a contract to the publisher of my first romance novel to produce another. There is no pain like the obligation to create a work of fiction with a plot, cast of characters, setting, beginning, middle, and end, and give it a title when you have no idea of the who, the what, the where, and the when, and all under the whip of a deadline. Thus it was with Aly’s House. “Write what you know” is the mantra creative-writing teachers tell their students and authors of books on “how to write a bestseller” instruct their readers, and for many writers that works. The elements of the novel are all in place, and they make a fine career writing about what they know. Well, that’s all fine and dandy if you know anything of interest to fill nearly two hundred pages of a romance novel or have the nerve to write about persons of your acquaintance. I had neither knowledge nor nerve.
So I decided to write about what I didn’t know. That entailed creating people on paper I had never known, living lives I had never experienced, in places I had never been. Where to start? In one’s curiosity was as good a place as any. I had always been curious about and admiring of horses, not that I’d ever ridden or owned one. I simply thought them magnificent animals. I would begin there, within the strong human desire to learn more about a subject. Memory was another place to explore. Surely in the power of the mind to remember was stuck an indelible image, a fleeting but memorable moment, a phrase never forgotten that could trigger an idea, a character, a conflict. And then into focus came the remembrance of a farmhouse I had seen briefly from the window of a school bus returning with my students from a field trip. From its windows wafted the most heavenly supper smells that reached my nostrils as we drove by. Lights were on in the kitchen, and I could see several children bent over their homework at the table, a mother at the stove. A happy family lives there, I remember thinking at the time.
Horses and farmhouses—I could work with that. And so out of my curiosity, Sampson was born, and from a brief glimpse fixed in memory, the house on Cedar Hill came into being. From there it was a matter of fleshing out from research, interviews, up-close-and-personal chats with horses, and imagination. A writer does not always have to have experienced to create. After completing Aly’s House, I retired my faithful old electric Smith-Corona from writing fiction to return to teaching and did not sit down before another typing machine to once again try my hand at composing a novel until twenty-five years later—this time to a Hewlett-Packard home computer. I was too old then, or wise, I’d like to believe, to worry about the outcome of my efforts. What would be, would be. It’s turned out to be a great return trip.
I leave you with this scene from Aly’s House in which Aly, the young daughter of a wealthy banker, recollects saying to Elizabeth, the wife of a poor farmer in her modest home on Cedar Hill:
“You live…very grandly here.”
“Grandly?” Elizabeth had puzzled over the words, thinking no doubt of the splendid house where Aly lived, and wondered at the child’s meaning. “No, not grandly, child, but we live very happily here.”
“Isn’t that living grandly?” Aly had wanted to know.
And so I wish the same for you. Live grandly.
With a sigh, Aly Kingston laid aside the newspaper she had bought to read while waiting for her flight to Oklahoma City. Texas newspapers, like those in her own home state, were filled these days with little but the woes brought on by the oil glut. Every other story seemed devoted to a small town, bank, or school district struggling to survive without the revenue of a once high-riding industry caught in a slump. She didn’t have to read about them. In Claiborne, she saw evidence of all three daily.
How fast the house of cards had fallen once the demand for oil decreased, leaving everybody but a fortunate few caught in the collapse. She had been among the fortunate few. Her business had not been founded on the vagaries of oil production, but on the breeding of quality horses and purse-winning racing stock. So far she’d suffered only the enviable problem of trying to keep up with the demand.
She had just about decided to browse in the gift shop when a tall man—dark, slim, impossibly handsome—strode into her vision from the concourse. She sat transfixed, disbelieving, her heart nearly failing at the sight of the familiar figure headed for a panel of telephones directly in front of her.
It was Marshall Wayne. There was not the slightest doubt that it was he. Time had not changed him, merely polished and refined, strengthened and enhanced his figure—just as she had known it would. She would have known him anywhere, at any age. A whole gallery of his portraits, sketched mentally each year, still hung in her heart.
He had not seen her. She looked hurriedly around for the newspaper to shield her face until she could adjust to the shock of seeing him again. A man one seat over had picked it up, and she decided against asking for it back to avoid calling attention to herself. Opening her purse, she took out her ticket—anything to read, to focus on—while her heart stilled and her vision cleared. Marshall had lifted the receiver and was dialing.
What was the matter with her? How could she react this way? Here she was, almost past thirty, successful, admired, and respected, yet still at the mercy of some paralyzing infatuation with a man she suspected wouldn’t spit on her if she were on fire—even after thirteen years.
His back was to her. She looked up from the ticket surreptitiously, hurriedly taking in the long, lithe form she remembered—the shape of the dark head, the set of the shoulders. His suit was impeccable, superbly tailored and rich in quality. So time had brought it all, had it—the money and importance he had so craved? She was glad, though not surprised. For people like Marshall Wayne, blessed with such intelligence and looks, success was a plum waiting to be picked.
So in the few minutes before she caught her plane, why didn’t she simply get up and walk over to him, present herself? Prosperity and time had probably long assuaged the sting of the old injuries and animosities, just as her father had predicted. Other than an occasional unpleasant memory of them, Marshall probably never thought of the Kingstons at all anymore, certainly not of her. For her own sake, she would so like to put some sort of an end to this—this unfinished business between them. She thought of it as an essential page ripped out of a book. All these years she had wanted to put it to rights, restore it, smooth it out so that she could close the book. Just a few minutes to explain was all she needed. Then he could be on his way and she hers, their chapter finished, done.
She would have to tell him who she was. He would not recognize her now. Even she sometimes had trouble recognizing the rather stunning, fashionable woman in her mirror, the woman she sometimes thought of as “Emmalou Fuller.”
So why didn’t she just get up and do that once he’d finished his phone call?
Suddenly, as if someone had called his name, Marshall turned to her, the receiver cradled in his shoulder while he fished for something in the breast pocket of his coat. Their glances struck, fused, and held for several rapt seconds before Aly lowered hers in embarrassment, burning with an adolescent blush that crept slowly over her face through the roots of her hair. Good God! She might just as well still be in grade school, still be sitting at his mother’s table when he walked in the kitchen door.
Say hello to Aly, son.
The ticket blurred with the poignancy of the memory, of the sudden vivid recollection of those long-ago afternoons and the sound of Elizabeth Wayne’s voice, silent over a decade now.
Aly remembered the first time she had heard that beloved voice, one winter afternoon when she and Willy had stopped by Cedar Hill on the way home from school. Willy had taken the basket of clean wash into the farmhouse and returned with the faultlessly ironed pieces; and she had helped him hang the shirts and carefully stack the folded things in the back of the big car. Then the Cadillac had refused to start. Elizabeth had come out onto the porch in her print housedress and apron and called to Willy, bent over the motor with her husband, “Do you think the little girl might like to come inside the house? She’s probably cold out there.”
Willy, the family’s chauffeur and handyman, had extricated himself from beneath the hood and inquired of the freckled face staring out the backseat window, “You want to go inside, Punkin?”
“Sure,” she said, scrambling out with her science book, her cold toes throbbing in her loafers.
“If that’s homework, you’re welcome to sit here at the table and work on it,” Elizabeth Wayne invited as they entered the warm, fragrant kitchen. It smelled of apples baking and clean laundry. “Hungry? How about a glass of milk and a piece of apple pie?”
Aly had nodded and sat down at the oilcloth-covered table partly piled with stacks of folded laundry. Soon a large slice of flaky pie and a glass of milk were set before her. Her stomach began to clamor. Slowly, her eyes on the pie, she removed her coat while Elizabeth went back to her ironing. Aly rarely ate anything. She didn’t care for the food at home, and the cafeteria lunches at school were even more unappealing. She had lived with hunger so long she was no longer conscious of it. That afternoon she ate the pie and drank the milk so fast she was ashamed of herself. Marshall’s mother would think they starved her at home. Her stomach ached later, but only because it had never been so full.
After that, the kitchen at Cedar Hill became her favorite place in all the world and Elizabeth Wayne her favorite person. Every anxiety faded away the moment she set foot on the linoleum floor and sat down at the oilcloth-covered table with her homework. Always there was something good to eat and the warm comfort of Elizabeth’s presence nearby.
She had never known anyone as kind as Elizabeth, not even her grandmother, who in certain moods had a tongue like a lash and an eye as piercing as a stiletto. Such moods seemed inconceivable in Elizabeth. Her voice was gentle and her eyes too peaceful ever to possess such a look. They were the same soft brown as her hair, which she wore away from her face in a bun. Aly thought Elizabeth’s hands were the loveliest she had ever seen. Their only adornment was a gold wedding band, narrow and plain but somehow very elegant on Elizabeth’s slender finger.
Willy looked forward to Thursday afternoons, too. He and Sy Wayne were the best of friends. They played dominoes every week, and a delay with the ironing gave him the opportunity to go down to the barn for a visit. It also gave Aly the chance to feast her eyes on Marshall Wayne, if only for the few minutes it took him to wash his hands at the stainless steel sink or to drink a glass of water. He never said more than hello to her, and that at the prompting of his mother. “Say hello to Aly, son,” Elizabeth would say, and Marshall, in a mumbled undertone, would grudgingly obey. He didn’t like her, she knew, not because she was four years younger and skinny and plain but because she was a Kingston. That had been a fact she had just always known, like she knew that she was not loved as much as her older brother and sister.
The printing on the ticket cleared. The present returned. Marshall’s eyes were still on her. Aly squirmed slightly under his direct scrutiny. Why didn’t he look away? What about her had caught his attention? He couldn’t possibly remember her. She herself could hardly remember the skinny, lank-haired little girl she had been back in the days of her mad crush on him. Then, with a little start, she realized he must find her attractive. Now there was an ironic twist that almost warranted making herself known.
Hello, Marshall. I’m Aly Kingston. Remember me? And what would she have said then if the deep brown eyes showed that he did not? Don’t you remember, Marshall? I’m the girl who lost Sampson for you. I’m the daughter of the man who foreclosed on your father’s farm. No, it wouldn’t do. It wouldn’t do at all. She would have to let him go, let the page stay missing from her life.
He had lit a cigarette, the smoke spiraling before his unwavering gaze. That, too, was new. Elizabeth would sigh in her grave if she knew. Her son, a smoker! Aly wondered if, for the sheer devilment of it, he intended to stare at her all through his call.
The announcement of her flight to Oklahoma City rescued her from a thirteenth reading of what to do should her luggage get lost, and she returned the ticket to her purse and gathered up her coat and overnight bag. Marshall turned back to the phone, and Aly stood up in relief, storing away a last picture of him before heading toward the departure gate.
A boarding line had already formed. She took her place at the end of it feeling a need to go back, knowing that she was letting something go that would never happen again. “May I see your ticket please?” the flight attendant asked, her eyes and smile on someone drawing up behind Aly. In confusion Aly realized she’d put the ticket back in her purse. Now she would have to juggle coat and luggage to get it.
“Allow me,” said Marshall in a cool voice tinged with amusement, and took her case.
“Thank you,” Aly murmured, going weak, rifling with undue fervor through her purse for the first-class ticket. Finally she located it and retrieved her case without meeting his eyes. Now a new sensation overcame her. Marshall on the same plane bound for Oklahoma City? What did that mean? Did he have business there? Or could he possibly be going on to Claiborne? Why? Fear, sharp and cold, replaced the nebulous feelings of a while ago.
“We’re unusually crowded in first class today,” the flight attendant was saying to the three of them surrendering their tickets and boarding passes. “Three A is the single here on the aisle.” She smiled at Aly. “And these”—her eyes moved past Aly to Marshall and her smile warmed—“are the last two vacant seats on the other side of the aisle in the rear. In the smoking section.”
“Thank you,” said Aly quickly, sensing Marshall’s disappointment as she slipped into the aisle seat. He and the woman behind him, a voluble talker in a red coat, moved on past her to the back section.
Once settled, Aly drew in toward the middle of the seats, away from the aisle, and turned her gaze out the window. Her abstraction was so complete that the flight attendant did not disturb her to take the coat folded on her lap. The plane began to taxi down the runway. Presently it gathered speed and lifted off, tearing through clouds almost immediately. Aly watched their filmy drift for a while, then closed her eyes, feeling herself being borne back into time. She was eighteen again. It was the first of June, and she was driving her graduation present, a smart little sports car, out to Cedar Hill…
As Aly parked in front of the old clapboard farmhouse, she looked briefly toward the space between two large pecan trees, a habit begun when the ancient pickup Marshall had driven in high school signaled that he was home. Today her automatic glance extended into a long stare of surprise. The black secondhand Ford that had replaced the pickup when he went off to college was parked between the trees.
Marshall was home! But why? Finals at Wharton, Elizabeth had told her, were next week. And then, at last, he would graduate from the finest business school in the country. Perplexed, Aly remained behind the wheel of her new car and considered what could possibly have dragged Marshall away from his books at such a crucial time. She knew of no one who was sick or who had died. Could good news have brought him home to Claiborne? She hadn’t heard of any, but she certainly didn’t want to contribute a negative note by lugging in a basket of wash for Elizabeth’s ironing board. Not when she knew how Marshall felt about his mother having to do such work to make ends meet, especially for the Kingstons.
Besides, she looked the mess she usually did. If she’d only known he would be home, she would have tried to do something to her hair, her face—worn something other than cutoff jeans and a T-shirt. Not that Marshall would have noticed. He never had. He had a special look for the Kingstons, a way of looking right through them, clear out to the other side, as if they didn’t exist. It was a type of disdain particularly nettlesome to Victoria, Aly’s older sister and Marshall’s classmate. “Somebody ought to take him down a notch or two.” Nobody ever did.
But, Aly sighed, if she didn’t pick up the ironing today, her father would be deprived of his weekly supply of perfect shirts. She’d be sure to get that long look of silent reproof that she couldn’t stand. Maybe today Elizabeth had the ironing ready to pick up, and she could depart without any to-do. She’d leave the basket of wash in the car and bring it back tomorrow when Marshall was gone. Surely he wouldn’t be staying long, not with finals next week.
Through the door’s oval pane of age-discolored glass, Aly saw Elizabeth coming up the breezeway that ran through the center of the house. Aly’s misgivings increased when she noted Elizabeth’s slow walk and bowed head, as if the weight of the thick, graying twist of hair on her neck were too much for her. Fear fluttered in Aly’s stomach. Ordinarily, despite the clumsy, brown oxfords she wore summer and winter, Elizabeth’s step would have been light, her saintly face alight with welcome for her Thursday visitor. Something must have happened to Marshall.
“Elizabeth, what’s the matter?” Aly asked at once when the door opened and she saw the tired, red-rimmed eyes of her friend.
“Aly—” Elizabeth spoke painfully. “I-it’s bad news.”
“What kind of bad news?”
“Tell her, Mother.” The voice, tense and deep, came from Marshall, who suddenly appeared beside his mother and glared down at Aly. Aly lifted an awestruck face. Tall and athletically slim, with eyes as richly dark as her mother’s sable coat, Marshall Wayne had always been the most handsome boy she’d ever seen. But between the glimpse she’d had of him last Christmas and now, maturity had added a new dimension, a force and power that almost overwhelmed.
“You do not look at Marshall Wayne,” one of her friends once declared, “you behold him.” Beholding him now, noticing the hard new manliness of his features and form, she felt an odd sense of loss. He had gone, the boy who had grown up in this house. She would never again see the Marshall Wayne she had loved since the first grade.
She tore away her gaze to ask of Elizabeth, “Tell me what?”
But Marshall answered with a flash of clenched teeth, “Your father intends to foreclose on us. We got a notice from the courthouse. We have thirty days to come up with the money we owe the bank or the farm will be posted for auction.”
Stunned, Aly stared at Elizabeth for confirmation. “But that’s impossible! My dad wouldn’t foreclose on Cedar Hill.”
“I’m afraid you’re wrong, Aly,” Elizabeth answered in weary resignation. “We haven’t been able to keep up with even the interest on the principal for some time. We’re way behind in our payments. Marshall came home to try to get his father to declare bankruptcy rather than to let the bank foreclose, but Sy won’t hear of it.”
Aly still could not believe it. “There’s been a mistake,” she declared obstinately. “What would the bank want with Cedar Hill?”
Moving his mother gently aside, Marshall stepped through the door. “That’s what I intend to find out,” he said furiously. Aly backed away, awed as much by his new grandeur as by his rage.
“Where are you going, son?” Elizabeth asked anxiously.
“To see Lorne Kingston,” he replied, making for the porch steps. “He’s going to explain why he wants our farm!”
Aly, after a moment’s hesitation, propelled her thin, sun-browned legs after him. “Marshall—” she called, following him down the steps and across the yard. “Let me go with you. Maybe I can talk to him.”
Without altering his pace, Marshall laughed bitterly. “You think your father would listen to you, Aly? You?”
She winced from his taunt, but she persisted. “You won’t get in to see him without me,” she warned. “Dad will be expecting you. He’s probably already alerted the security guards. I may not be able to talk him into changing his mind, but I can at least get you into his office.”
Marshall halted to consider her argument, holding her gaze thoughtfully. Then suddenly, as if he’d never really seen it before, the brown eyes shifted in curious study of her face. Embarrassment seared through her. She had read the same expression on the faces of so many. No, she didn’t look at all like a Kingston, she was always tempted to say. She was well aware of the joke that explained her presence in the Kingston household—that at birth she had been placed in the wrong crib at the hospital. She showed how little she cared by working hard at being as unlike any other member of her family as possible.
But now, having caught Marshall’s attention for the first time in her eighteen years, she wished she’d agreed to braces for her slightly protruding teeth, to a permanent for her hair, to the cream that Victoria vowed would vanish the pox of freckles covering her face. She wished she could have forced down Annie Jo’s unappetizing fare at home, the monotonous lunches at school. Then there might have been some curves to her figure, something to improve the lines of her T-shirt and jeans.
“Why don’t you ever curl your hair?” Marshall asked suddenly, impatiently flicking aside her bangs, touching her for the first time in their lives. “How do you see with that mop hanging down in your eyes?”
The bangs had been her one attempt to conceal her freckles, especially abundant on her forehead. “I—I’m going to the barbershop next week.”
The dark brows quirked in reluctant humor. “The barbershop?”
“It gets Mother’s goat for me to go to a barber.”
“God, Aly, why do you cut off your nose to spite your face? All right,” he said, his tone taking them back to business, “come on then. You drive your car, and I’ll take mine.”
Aly followed the Ford in her sports car, her eyes never straying from the dark head in front of her. Blast her father! If this were true, the Kingstons would never be able to dig out of this hole with Marshall. She could read his hate and anger for anything remotely connected with the family name in every rigid movement of the broad shoulders, every turn of the sculpted profile. For the moment at least, she would not allow herself even to consider a foreclosure on Cedar Hill—what it would mean to the Waynes and to herself. She still believed there had been a mistake. What could her father possibly want with a farm? Farmland wasn’t selling right now, and Cedar Hill was too far out of Claiborne to be developed as commercial property. It wasn’t as if the bank couldn’t afford to let the Waynes ride for a while. The oil boom had the Kingston State Bank flourishing. Other farmers were allowed an extensive grace period during bad financial times. Why not Sy Wayne? This whole thing had to be a mistake. Surely her father wasn’t intending to foreclose on Cedar Hill.
But Aly knew too well the president and chairman of the Kingston State Bank, and depression hung over her like a dark cloud by the time they drove into the bank’s parking lot. Marshall helped himself to one of the two spots marked president and chairman, the shabby black Ford a seedy contrast to her father’s new white Lincoln Continental in the other. Aly had to hurry to catch up with Marshall’s fast stride, reaching him as he threw open both of the heavy glass doors at once and strode defiantly toward her father’s office in the rear of the bank. Their entrance attracted the immediate and fascinated attention of the tellers and employees at desks around the room. Aly could tell from their expressions that news of the foreclosure was out. By tonight it would be discussed at every supper table in town.
- "Reads like a high-end Thorn Birds."—Sara Nelson, The Daily Beast (praise for Roses)
- "Roses heralded as new Gone with the Wind."—USA Today (praise for Roses)
- "As large, romantic, and American a tale as Texas itself."—Booklist (praise for Roses)
"An enthralling stunner....A compelling saga with echoes of Gone with the
Wind."—Publishers Weekly (praise for Roses)
"It's been almost 30 years since the heyday of giant epics...but Meacham's
debut might bring them back. Readers who like an old-fashioned saga will
devour this sprawling novel of passion and revenge."—Library Journal (praise for Roses)
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2016
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Grand Central Publishing