Danielle Steel

A Good Woman

© 2008

To the good women-the great women!

The Best women I know:

Beatrix, Sam, Victoria, Vanessa, and Zara.

Each one special and unique,

courageous, loving, wise, resourceful,

creative, persevering, honest, with integrity,

poise, and grace.

You are my heroes, my role models,

my treasures and my joy.

Thank you for the lessons you have taught

me, and the limitless love we share.

With all my love,


Chapter 1

On the morning of April 14, 1912, Annabelle Worthington was reading quietly in the library of her parents’ house, overlooking the large, walled-in garden. The first signs of spring had begun to appear, the gardeners had planted flowers, and everything looked beautiful for her parents’ return in the next few days. The home she shared with them and her older brother Robert was a large, imposing mansion, at the northern reaches of Fifth Avenue in New York. The Worthingtons, and her mother’s family, the Sinclairs, were directly related to the Vanderbilts and the Astors, and somewhat more indirectly to all the most important New York families. Her father, Arthur, owned and ran the city’s most prestigious bank. His family had been in banking for generations, just as her mother’s family had been in Boston. Her brother Robert, at twenty-four, had worked for her father for the past three years. And of course, when Arthur retired one day, Robert would run the bank. Their future, like their history, was predictable, assured, and safe. It was comforting for Annabelle to grow up in the protection of their world.

Her parents loved each other, and she and Robert had always been close and gotten along. Nothing had ever happened to upset or disturb them. The minor problems they encountered were always instantly buffered and solved. Annabelle had grown up in a sacred, golden world, a happy child, among kind, loving people. The past few months had been exciting for her, although tempered by a recent disappointment. In December, just before Christmas, she had been presented to society at a spectacular ball her parents had given for her. It was her debut, and everyone insisted it was the most elegant and extravagant debutante ball New York had seen in years. Her mother loved giving beautiful parties. The garden had been covered over and heated. The ballroom in their home was exquisite. The band had been the most coveted in the city. Four hundred people had attended, and the gown Annabelle had worn made her look like a fairy princess.

Annabelle was tiny, elfin, delicate, even smaller than her mother. She was a petite blonde, with long, silky golden hair, and huge blue eyes. She was beautiful, with small hands and feet, and perfect features. Throughout her childhood her father always said she looked like a porcelain doll. At eighteen, she had a lovely, well-proportioned slim figure, and a gentle grace. Everything about her suggested the aristocracy that was her heritage and that she and all her ancestors and relations had been born into.

The family had shared a lovely Christmas in the days following the ball, and after all the excitement, parties, and nights out with her brother and parents, in flimsy evening gowns in the winter weather, in the first week of January, Annabelle had fallen ill with a severe case of influenza. Her parents had been worried about her when it turned rapidly to bronchitis, and then nearly to pneumonia. Fortunately, her youth and general good health helped her to recover. But she had been sick and had run fevers in the evenings for nearly a month. Their doctor had decided finally that it would be unwise for her to travel in her weakened condition. Her parents and Robert had planned a trip for months, to visit friends in Europe, and Annabelle was still convalescing when they left on the Mauretania in mid-February. She had traveled on the same ship with them many times before, and her mother offered to stay home with her this time, but by the time they left, Annabelle was well enough for them to leave her alone. She had insisted that her mother not deprive herself of the trip she’d been looking forward to for so long. They were all sorry to leave her, and Annabelle was severely disappointed, but even she admitted that although she felt much better by the time they left, she still didn’t feel quite up to a long journey abroad for two months. She assured her mother, Consuelo, that she would take care of the house while they were away. They trusted her completely.

Annabelle was not the sort of girl one had to worry about, or who would take advantage of their absence. They were just very sorry that she couldn’t come with them, as Annabelle was herself. She was a good sport when she saw them off at the Cunard dock in February, but she returned home feeling a little dejected. She kept herself busy reading and taking on projects in the house that would please her mother. She did lovely needlework, and spent hours mending their finest bed and table linens. She didn’t feel well enough to go out socially, but her closest friend Hortense visited her often. Hortense had also made her debut that year, and the two girls had been best friends since they were children. Hortie already had a beau, and Annabelle had made a bet with her that James would propose to her by Easter. She’d been right, as it turned out, and they had just announced their engagement the week before. Annabelle couldn’t wait to tell her mother, who would be home soon. They were due back on the seventeenth of April, having set sail four days before from Southampton on a new ship.

It had been a long two months without them and Annabelle had missed them. But it had given her an opportunity to regain her health, and do a great deal of reading. After she finished her chores around the house, she spent every afternoon and evening in her father’s library, poring over his books. Her favorites were the ones about important men, or science. She had never had much interest in the romantic books read by her mother, and even less so in the ones loaned to her by Hortense, which she thought were drivel. Annabelle was an intelligent young woman, who soaked up world events and information like a sponge. It gave her lots to talk about with her brother, and even he admitted privately that the depth of her knowledge often put him to shame. Although he had a good head for business, and was extremely responsible, he loved going to parties and seeing friends, whereas Annabelle appeared gregarious on the surface, but had a deep serious nature and a passion for learning, science, and books. Her favorite room in the house was their father’s library, where she spent a great deal of her time.

On the night of the fourteenth, Annabelle read late into the night in her bed, and slept unusually late the next morning. She brushed her teeth and combed her hair when she got up, put on a dressing gown, and made her way slowly down to breakfast. She thought the house was strangely silent as she walked downstairs, and she saw none of the servants. Venturing into the pantry, she found several of them huddled over the newspaper, which they folded quickly. She saw in an instant that their faithful housekeeper Blanche had been crying. She had a soft heart, and any sad story about an animal or a child in distress easily reduced her to tears. Annabelle was expecting one of those stories as she smiled and said good morning, and with that, William the butler began crying and walked out of the room.

“Good lord, what happened?” Annabelle looked at Blanche and the two undermaids in amazement. She saw then that all of them were crying, and without knowing why, her heart skipped a beat. “What’s going on here?”

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