CRITICAL RAVES FOR
“STEEL IS ONE OF THE BEST.”
—Los Angeles Times
“THE PLOTS OF DANIELLE STEEL'S NOVELS TWIST AND WEAVE AS INCREDIBLE STORIES UNFOLD TO THE
THRILL AND DELIGHT OF HER ENORMOUS READING PUBLIC.”
—United Press International
“A LITERARY PHENOMENON … ambitious … prolific … and not to be pigeonholed as one who
produces a predictable kind of book.”
—The Detroit News
“There is a smooth reading style to her writings which makes it easy to forget the time and to
keep flipping the pages.”
—The Pittsburgh Press
“Ms. Steel excels at pacing her narrative, which races forward, mirroring the frenetic lives
chronicled here; men and women swept up in bewildering change, seeking solutions to problems
never before faced.”
Books by Danielle Steel
THE KLONE AND I
THE LONG ROAD HOME
FIVE DAYS IN PARIS
NO GREATER LOVE
MESSAGE FROM NAM
THURSTON HOUSE CROSSINGS ONCE IN A LIFE M E A PERFECT STRANGER REMEMBRANCE PALOMINO LOVE: POEMS THE RING LOVING TO LOVE AGAIN SUMMER'S END SEASON OF PASSION THE PROMISE NOW AND FOREVER PASSION'S PROMISE GOING HOME
Visit the Danielle Steel Web Site at:www.daniellesteel.com
A different dedication this time,
One that's never been done before:
For the rest of my life.
With all my love,Olive
A tomb is only an empty box. The one I love exists entirely in my memory, in a handkerchiefthat's still scented when I unfold it. in an intonation that I suddenly remember and listen tofor a whole long moment, my head bent …
… and what bitterness at first—but what calm relief later!—to discover, one day when springtrembles with cold, uneasiness and hope—that nothing has changed: neither the smell of theearth, nor the quiver of the brook, nor the shape, like rosebuds, of the chestnut shoots … tolean down in astonishment over the little filigree cups of the wild anemones, toward the carpetof endless violets—arc they mauve, arc they blue?—to let one's gaze caress the unforgottenoutline of the mountains, to drink with a sigh of hesitation the piquant wine of a new sun …to live again!
Colette?????????????????????A Retreat from Love
The train rolled relentlessly into the Italian darkness, its wheels chattering rhythmicallyagainst the rails. There were fat peasants crowded everywhere, and skinny children, and seedy-looking businessmen and hordes of American GI's. There was a sad, musty smell in the train,like a house that hasn't been cleaned in years and years, and added to that the ripe smell oftired bodies, long unwashed, unkempt, unloved. Yet no one had thought to open a window. No onewould dare. The old women would scream as though they had been assaulted, faced with a rush ofthe warm night air. That would have offended them. Everything upset them. Heat, cold, fatigue,hunger. They had reason to be disturbed. They were tired. They were sick. They had been hungryand cold and afraid for a long time. It had been one hell of a long war. And now it was over.For three months now. It was August 1945. And the train rolled on relentlessly as it had fortwo endless days.
Serena had boarded the train in Paris, and ridden, without speaking to anyone, across Franceand Switzerland, and at last into Italy. This was the last of her journey now … the last ofit… the last of it.… The wheels of the train chattered out her thoughts as she lay huddled ina corner, her eyes closed, her face pressed against the glass. She was tired. God, she wastired. Every inch of her body ached now, even her arms, as she hugged them tightly around her,as though she were cold, which she was not. The heat on the train was stifling, her long blondhair felt matted against the back of her neck, as the train began to slow, and then a fewmoments later it stopped, and she sat there, without moving, wondering if she should get outand walk, even if only for a moment. She had been traveling now for almost nine days in all. Ithad been an endless journey, and she wasn't home yet.
She kept thinking of home, reminding herself of it over and over. She had forced herself not tolet out a whoop of joy as they crossed the Alps and she knew that she was back in Italy atlast. But this was only the beginning. In fact, she reminded herself again as she opened hereyes slowly in the glare of lights from the station, for her the journey hadn't even begun. Itwouldn't begin until sometime the next morning, when she reached her destination, and then shewould see, she would find out … at last.…
Serena unraveled herself sleepily, stretching her long graceful legs under the seat in front ofher. Across were two old women, sleeping, a very thin one and a very fat one, with a scrawnychild pressed between them, like a pathetic offering of pink meat between two loaves of oldstale bread. Serena watched them expressionlessly. One could read nothing in her eyes, theylooked like icy cold green pools of very fine emeralds, incredibly beautiful, but with verylittle warmth. But there was something about the depth of the young woman's eyes. One was drawnto them, as though one had to look into her, had to discover what she was thinking, as thoughone had to see inside her … and could not. The doors to Serena's soul were firmly shut, andthere was nothing to see except the perfect precision of her finely carved aristocratic face.It had the translucence of white marble. Yet it was not a face one would have dared to touch.Despite her obvious youth and beauty, there was nothing inviting about her, nothing beckoning,nothing warm. She had surrounded herself with an aura of distance that carefully maskedtenderness and vulnerability.
“Scusi.” She murmured the word softly as she tiptoed past the sleeping women and over an oldman. She felt wretched sometimes for what she thought, but she was so tired of old people. Shehad seen nothing but old people since she had arrived. Was there no one else left, then? Onlyold women and old men, and a handful of children cavorting crazily everywhere, showing off forthe GI's. They were the only young men one saw now. The Americans, in their drab uniforms, withtheir bright smiles and good teeth and shining eyes. Serena had seen enough of them to last alifetime. She didn't give a damn whose side they were on. They were part of it. They woreuniforms, just like the others. What difference did the color of the uniforms make? Black orbrown or green or … purple for that matter, or scarlet … or turquoise.… She let her thoughtsrun wild in the warm night air … she watched the uniforms cascade out of the train behind heras she stood on the platform and turned to look the other way. Even with her back turned, she
could hear them standing near her, talking to each other, laughing at some joke, or speakingsoftly in the late night silence, broken only by the scraping metal noises of the train.
“Smoke?” A hand reached out suddenly toward Serena, crossing her field of vision in spite ofthe way she had turned her back, and startled, she shook her head and hunched her shoulders, asthough to protect herself further from what had happened, from what had been. One had a senseof something hurt about Serena; even in all her powerful young beauty, one sensed that therewas something broken, something damaged, and perhaps forever spoiled, as though she werecarrying some terrible burden, or existing in spite of an almost intolerable pain.
Yet there was nothing on her surface to show that. Her eyes were clear, her face unlined. Inspite of the ugly, wrinkled clothes she wore, she was striking. And yet, if one looked beyondthat first glance, one could not help but see pain. One of the GI's had noticed it as hewatched her, and now as he took a last drag on his cigarette and dropped it on the platform, hefound his eyes drawn toward her again. Christ, she was pretty. That white-blond hair peekingout from under the dark green cotton scarf she wore tied around her head, as though she were apeasant woman. But it was unconvincing. Serena could not pass for a peasant, no matter what shewore; Her carriage gave her away almost instantly, the way she moved, the way she turned herhead, like a young gazelle, bounding with grace. There was something almost too beautiful aboutSerena. It almost hurt to look at her for too long a time. Just seeing her in the drab clothesshe wore was troublesome. One wanted to tap her on the shoulder and ask why—why are youdressed that way and what are you doing pressed amongst the dregs of humanity on thisovercrowded train? And more questions: Where had she come from? Where was she going? And whywas there that faraway look in her eyes?
As she stood on the platform in the warm summer darkness, she offered no answers. She onlystood there. Very straight, very tall, very slim, and so young, in the crumpled cotton dress.She looked down at the deep creases in the cheap fabric and smoothed the skirt with a longdelicate hand as her mind seemed to snag on a memory, a gesture … her mother doing the samething … her perfectly manicured hand smoothing the skirt of a dress … a white silk dress …at a party in the garden of the palazzo.… Serena squeezed her eyes closed for a moment,forcing the memory back. She had to do that often. But the memories still came.
One of the GI's was watching her as she opened her eyes again and walked quickly down theplatform to reboard the train. She looked as though she were running away from something, andhe wondered what it was, as she put a foot on the steps up to the train and swung herselfgracefully aboard again, as though she had just mounted a Thoroughbred and was about to rideoff into the night. He watched her closely for a long moment, the tall thin frame, theelegantly squared shoulders. She had an extraordinary grace about her. As though she weresomeone important. And she was.
“Scusi,” she whispered again softly as she made her way down the aisle and back into herseat, where she let out a soft sigh and leaned her head back again, but this time she did notclose her eyes. There was no point. She was bone tired, but she wasn't sleepy. How could shesleep now? With only a few more hours before they arrived. Only a few more hours … a few morehours … a few more.… The train began moving and picked up the refrain of her thoughts again,as she gazed out into the darkness, feeling in her heart, her soul, her very bones, thatwhatever happened, at least she had come home. Even the sound of Italian being spoken aroundher was a relief now.
The countryside outside the train window was so familiar, so comfortable, so much a part ofher, even now, after four years of living with the nuns in the convent in Upstate New York.Getting there four years before had been another endless journey. First, making her way acrossthe border into the Ticino with her grandmother and Flavio, one of the few servants they hadleft. Once into the Italian part of Switzerland they had been secretly met by two womencarrying weapons, and two nuns. It was there that she had left her grandmother, with rivers oftears pouring down the young girl's cheeks, holding tightly to the old lady for a last time,wanting to clutch her, to beg her not to send her away. She had already lost so much in Rometwo years before, when— She couldn't bear to think of it as she stood in the chill air of the
Italian Alps, locked in her grandmother's firm embrace for a last time.…
“You'll go with them, Serena, and you'll be safe there.” The plans had been carefully laidfor almost a month now. There was America. So terribly far away. “And when it is over, you'llcome home.” When it is over … but when would it be over? As they had stood there, Serena feltthat it had already gone on for a lifetime, ten lifetimes. At fourteen she had already livedthrough two years of war and loss and fear. Not so much her own fear as everyone else's. Theadults had lived with constant terror of Mussolini. The children had tried at first to pretendthat they didn't care. But one had to care. Sooner or later, events made you care. Sooner orlater it all grabbed you by the throat and throttled you until you thought you would die.
She remembered the feeling, still … of watching her father dragged away by Mussolini's men …watching him try not to scream, to look brave as he tried, helplessly, with his eyes to protecthis wife. And then the horrible sounds of what they had done to him in the courtyard of thepalazzo, and the terrible noises he had made at last. They hadn't killed him then though. Theyhad waited until the next day, and shot him along with half a dozen others in the courtyard ofthe Palazzo Venezia, where Mussolini was headquartered. Serena's mother had been there whenthey shot him, begging, pleading, screaming, crying, while the soldiers laughed. ThePrincipessa di San Tibaldo crawling as she begged them, as the men in uniform taunted her,teased her. One had grabbed her by the hair, kissed her roughly, and then spat and threw her tothe ground. And it was all over moments later. Serena's father had hung limply from the postwhere they had tied him. Her mother ran to him, sobbing, and held him for a last moment before,almost as a matter of amusement, they shot her too. And all for what? Because they werearistocrats. Because her father hated Mussolini. Italy had been sick with a special kind ofpoison then. A poison based on hatred and paranoia and greed and fear. A horror that had turnedbrother against brother, and sometimes husband against wife. It had turned Serena's uncleagainst her father, with a kind of passion Serena couldn't understand. Her father thought thatMussolini was a savage, a buffoon, a fool, and said so, but his brother had been unable toaccept their differences. Sergio di San Tibaldo had become Mussolini's lapdog at the beginningof the war. It was Sergio who turned Umberto in, who insisted that Umberto was dangerous andhalf mad, that he was involved with the Allies when in fact he was not. The truth was, Sergiostood to gain a great deal if he could dispose of Umberto, and he had. As the younger son hehad inherited almost nothing from their father, only the farm in Umbría, which he had hatedeven as a boy. And he couldn't even sell that. He had it for the use of his lifetime, and thenhe was obliged to leave it to his children, or Umberto's if he had none. As far as Sergio wasconcerned, his older brother had it all, the title, the money, the looks, the palazzo that hadbeen in the family for seven generations, the artwork, the importance, the charm, andGraziella, of course, which had been the final spark to ignite his hatred for his olderbrother.
He hated her father most for possessing Graziella, the golden fairy queen with the incrediblegreen eyes and spun-gold hair. She had been exquisite, and he had loved her since he had been aboy. He had loved her always … always … when they all spent their summers together in Umbriaor San Remo or at Rapallo, when she was a little girl. But she had always loved Umberto.Everyone had loved Umberto … everyone … especially Graziella.
Sergio had knelt, sobbing, at her funeral at Santa Maria Maggiore, asking himself why it hadall happened. Why had she married Umberto? Why had she run to him after he was dead? No one atthe funeral had fully understood the part that Sergio had played in his brother's and sister-in-law's deaths. To their friends, he had always seemed ineffectual, a weakling. And now no oneknew the truth, except Serena's grandmother. It was she who prodded and pried and inquired andpressured in all the right places, she who pressed everyone she knew until she learned thetruth. Only she had been brave enough to confront him in a rage of horror and grief sooverwhelming that when it was over Sergio understood as never before the nightmare of what hehad done to his own flesh and blood. And for what? A white marble palazzo? A woman who had diedat the feet of her husband, and had never loved anyone but him in any case?
For what had he done it? his mother had screamed. For the love of Mussolini? “That pig,Sergio? That pig? You killed my firstborn for him?” He had trembled in the wake of hismother's rage, and knew that he would spend the rest of his lifetime trying to live with thetruth. He had denied everything to his mother, denied that he betrayed Umberto, denied that hehad done anything at all. But she had known, as had Serena. Those brilliant green eyes of hershad bored into him at the funeral, and he had been grateful to escape at last. Unable to fightthe tides of Mussolini, and unwilling to expose the horror of her son's fratricide to the wholeworld, the elderly Principessa di San Tibaldo had taken Serena and the oldest of the servantsand removed them from Rome. The palazzo was his now, she told him as she stood for a lastmoment in the brilliantly lit black and white marble hallway. She wished never to see him, orthe house, again. He was no longer her son, he was a stranger, and for a last moment she hadgazed at him with tears filling the wise old eyes once more. She shook her head slowly then andwalked silently out the door.
She and Serena had never seen her uncle, or the house, or Rome again. She had been twelve thelast time she walked out the richly ornate bronze doors on the Via Giulia and yet even as shestood in the chill air of the Alps two years later she felt as though they had left Rome thatafternoon. It had been a difficult two years, years of fighting off the memories of the soundsof her father being beaten by the soldiers in the courtyard, the frantic look of her mother asshe had run out of the house the next morning, her hair barely combed, her eyes wide with fear,a red wool coat clutched around her, and the sight of their bodies when the soldiers had leftthem at the gate, sprawled on the white marble steps, their blood trickling slowly down intothe grass … and Serena's endless screams as she saw them … saw them lying there … even asshe said good-bye to her grandmother. The memories were not yet dim, and now she was losing hertoo. Losing her by being sent away, to safety, her grandmother had insisted. But what was safenow? Nothing was safe, Serena knew that at fourteen. Nothing would ever be safe again. Nothing.Except for her grandmother, she had lost it all.
“I will write to you, Serena. I promise. Every day. And when Italy is a nice place again, youwill come back here and live with me. I promise you that, my darling. I promise.…”In spite ofher strength the principessa had choked on the last words as she held Serena close to her, thislast bit of her own flesh, this last link she had to her firstborn. She would have no one nowwhen Serena went away. But there was no choice. It was too dangerous for the child to stay.Three times in the last two months the soldiers in the Piazza San Marco had accosted Serena.Even in plain, ugly clothes, the child was too beautiful, too tall, too womanly, even atfourteen. The last one had followed her home from school and grabbed her roughly by the armsand kissed her, pressed against a wall, his body crushed against hers. One of the servants hadseen them there, Serena panting and frightened, wide eyed with terror yet silent, afraid thatthis time they would take her, or her grandmother, away. She had been terrified of thesoldiers' faces and their laughter and their eyes. And the older woman knew each day that therewas danger for Serena, that letting her out of the house at all was dangerous for the child.There was no way to control the soldiers, no way to protect Serena from the madness that seemedto run wild. Any day a nightmare could befall them, and before it happened Alicia di SanTibaldo knew that she had to save the child. It had taken several weeks to find the solution,but when the bishop quietly suggested it to her, she knew that she had no choice. Quietly, thatnight, after dinner, she had told Serena about the plan. The child had cried at first, andbegged her, pleaded not to send her away, and surely not so far away as that. She could go tothe farm in Umbria, she could hide there, she could cut off her hair, wear ugly dresses, shecould work in the fields … she could do anything, but please, Norma … please.… Her heart-
wrenching sobs were to no avail. To let her stay in Italy was to destroy her, was to risk herdaily, to walk a constant tightrope, knowing that she could be killed, or hurt or raped. Theonly thing left for her grandmother to do for her was to send her away, until the end of thewar. And they both knew, as they stood inside the Swiss border, that it could be for a verylong time.
“You will be back soon, Serena. And I will be here, my darling. No matter what.” She prayedthat she wasn't lying as rivers of tears flowed from the young girl's eyes, and the slendershoulders shook in her hands.
Do you promise me? She could barely choke out the words.“Me lo prometti?”
The old woman nodded silently and kissed Serena one last time, and then, nodding to the twowomen and the nuns, she stepped gracefully backward and the nuns put their arms around Serenaand began to lead her away. She would walk for several miles that night to their convent. Thenext day they would take her with a group of other children to their sister house by bus somehundred miles away. From there she would be passed on to another group and eventually taken outof Switzerland. Their goal was London, and from there, the States. It would be a long anddifficult journey, and there was always the danger of a bombing in London, or at sea. The routethat Alicia had chosen for her grandchild was one of possible danger and an even greater chancefor safety and survival. To stay in Italy would have meant certain disaster, in one way oranother, and she would have died before she would have let them touch Serena. She owedGraziella and Umberto that much, after what Sergio had done. She had no one now, except Serena… a tiny speck of dark brown, her pale gold hair shoved into a dark knitted hat … as theyreached the last knoll and then turned, with a last wave from Serena, and then theydisappeared.
For Serena it had been a long and terrifying journey, complete with five days and nights inair-raid shelters in London, and at last they had fled to the countryside, and left on afreighter out of Dover. The crossing to the States had been grim, and Serena had said not aword for days. She spoke no English. Several of the nuns accompanying them spoke French, as didSerena, but she had no wish to speak to anyone at all. She had lost everyone now. Everyone andeverything. Her parents, her uncle, her grandmother, her home, and at last her country. Therewas nothing left. She had stood on deck, a solitary figure in brown and gray, with the windwhipping the long sheets of pale blond hair around her head. The nuns had watched her, sayingnothing at all. At first they had been afraid that she might do something desperate, but intime they came to understand her. You could learn a lot about the child simply from watchingher. She had an extraordinary sort of dignity about her. One sensed her strength and her prideand at the same time her sorrow and her loss. There were others in the group of children goingto the States who had suffered losses similar to Serena's, two of the children had lost bothparents and all their brothers and sisters in air raids, several had lost at least one parent,all had lost beloved friends. But Serena had lost something more. When she learned of heruncle's betrayal of her father, she had lost her faith and trust in people as well. The onlyperson she had trusted in the past two years was her grandmother. She trusted no one else. Notthe servants, not the soldiers, not the government. No one. And now the one person she couldcount on was nowhere near. When one looked into the deep green eyes, one saw a bottomlesssorrow that tore at one's heart, a grief beyond measure, a despair visible in children's eyesonly in times of war.
In time the look of sorrow was less apparent. Once at the convent in Upstate New York, shelaughed, though rarely. She was usually serious, intense, quiet, and in every spare moment shewrote to her grandmother, asking a thousand questions, telling her each detail of every day.
It was in the spring of 1943 that the letters from the principessa stopped coming. First Serenahad been mildly worried, and then it became obvious that she was deeply concerned. Finally shehad lain awake every night in terror, wondering, imagining, fearing, and then hating … it wasSergio again … he had come to Venice to kill her grandmother too. He had done it, sheimagined, because her grandmother knew the truth about what he had done to his brother and hecouldn't bear to have anyone know, so he had killed her, and one day he would try to killSerena too. But let him try, she thought, the extraordinary green eyes narrowing with aviciousness even she hadn't known she had. Let him, I will kill him first, I will watch him dieslowly, I will.…
“Serena?” There had been a soft light in the corridor, and the Mother Superior had appearedat her door that night. “Is something wrong? Have you had bad news from home?”
“No.” The walls had come up quickly, as Serena sat up in bed and shook her head, the greeneyes instantly veiled.
“Are you sure?”
“No, thank you, Mother. It is kind of you to ask.” She opened up to no one. Except hergrandmother, in the daily letters, which had had no response now for almost two months. Shestepped quickly to the cold floor and stood there in the simple cotton nightgown, a curtain ofblond hair falling over her shoulders, her face a delicately chiseled marvel, worthy of astatue, and truly remarkable on a girl of just sixteen.
“May I sit down?” The Mother Superior had looked gently at Serena.
Mother Constance sat on the room's single wooden chair as Serena hovered for a moment and thensat back on the bed, feeling uncomfortable, and her own worries still showing in her eyes. “Isthere nothing I can do for you, child?” The others had made a home here. The English, theItalians, the Dutch, the French. The convent had been filled for four years now with childrenbrought over from Europe, most of whom would eventually go back, if their families survived thewar. Serena was older than most of the others. Other than Serena the oldest child had beentwelve when she had arrived, the others were mostly much younger children, five, six, seven,nine. But the others had acquired a kind of ease about them, as though they had come fromnowhere more exotic than Poughkeepsie, as though they knew nothing of war and had no realfears. The fears were there, and at times, at night, there were nightmares, but on the wholethey were an oddly happy-go-lucky group. No one would have believed the stories that hadpreceded their arrivals, and in most cases there were no visible signs of the stress of war.But Serena had been different from the beginning. Only the Mother Superior and two other nunswere fully aware of her story, apprised of it in a letter from her grandmother that cameshortly after she arrived. The principessa had felt that they should know the full story butthey had heard nothing of it from Serena herself. Over the years she had never opened up tothem. Not yet.
“What's troubling you, my child? Do you not feel well?”
“I'm fine.…” There had been only the fraction of a second of hesitation, as though for aninstant she had considered opening a sacred door. It was the first time, and this time MotherConstance felt that she had to be persistent. Even if it was painful for Serena to reveal herfeelings, it was obvious that the girl was in greater distress than she ever had been before.“I'm … it's only that—” Mother Constance said nothing, but her eyes reached out gently toSerena until she could resist no more. Tears suddenly filled her eyes and spilled onto hercheeks. “I've had no letter from my grandmother in almost two months.”
“I see.” Mother Constance nodded slowly. “You don't think she could be away?”
Serena shook her head and brushed away the tears with one long graceful hand. “Where would shego?”
“To Rome perhaps? On family business?”
Serena's eyes grew instantly hard. “She has no business there anymore!”
“I see.” She didn't wish to press the girl further. “It could just be that it's gettingharder and harder to get the mail through. Even from London the mail is slow.” During herentire stay in New York the letters from her grandmother had reached her via an intricatenetwork of underground and overseas channels. Getting the letters from Italy to the States hadbeen no easy feat. But they had always come. Always.
Serena gazed at her searchingly. “I don't think it's that.”
“Is there anyone else you would write to?”
“Only one.” There was only one old servant there now. Everyone else had had to leave.Mussolini wouldn't allow anyone of the old guard to keep as many servants as the principessahad been keeping. She was permitted one servant, and one only. Some of the others had wanted to