Judith McNaught Paradise

ISBN 13: 9780671008079

Paradise

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9780671008079: Paradise

To set the stage for Remember When, Judith McNaught's exciting new December 1996 hardcover, her publisher asked her to select a favorite work to appear the month prior--and then they gave it a classic price. This book features a chapter teasing to Remember When, along with a $2 coupon toward its purchase.

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About the Author:

Judith McNaught has most recently won critical acclaim for her sensational #1 New York Times bestseller, Night Whispers. She first soared to stardom with her stunning bestseller Whitney, My Love, and went on to win the hearts of millions of readers with such novels as Double Standards, Tender Triumph, Once and Always, and the New York Times bestsellers Something Wonderful, A Kingdom of Dreams, Almost Heaven, Paradise, Perfect, Until You, and Remember When. Judith McNaught lives in Houston.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

December 1973

With her scrapbook opened beside her on her canopied bed, Meredith Bancroft carefully cut out the picture from the Chicago Tribune. The caption read Children of Chicago socialites, dressed as elves, participate in charity Christmas pageant at Oakland Memorial Hospital, then it listed their names. Beneath the caption was a large picture of the "elves" -- five boys and five girls, including Meredith -- who were handing out presents to the kids in the children's ward. Standing off to the left, supervising the proceedings, was a handsome young man of eighteen, whom the caption referred to as "Parker Reynolds III, son of Mr. and Mrs. Parker Reynolds of Kenilworth."

Impartially, Meredith compared herself to the other girls in the elf costumes, wondering how they could manage to look leggy and curvy while she looked..."Dumpy!" she pronounced with a pained grimace. "I look like a troll, not an elf!"

It did not seem at all fair that the other girls who were fourteen, just a few small weeks older than she was, should look so wonderful while she looked like a flat-chested troll with braces. Her gaze shifted to her picture and she regretted again the streak of vanity that had caused her to take off her glasses for the photograph; without them she had a tendency to squint -- just like she was doing in that awful picture. "Contact lenses would definitely help," she concluded. Her gaze switched to Parker's picture, and a dreamy smile drifted across her face as she clasped the newspaper clipping to what would have been her breasts if she had breasts, which she didn't. Not yet. At this rate, not ever.

The door to her bedroom opened and Meredith hastily yanked the picture from her chest as the stout, sixty-year-old housekeeper came in to take her dinner tray away. "You didn't eat your dessert," Mrs. Ellis chided.

"I'm fat, Mrs. Ellis," Meredith said. To prove it, she scrambled off the antique bed and marched over to the mirror above her dressing table. "Look at me," she said, pointing an accusing finger at her reflection. "I have no waistline!"

"You have some baby fat there, that's all."

"I don't have hips either. I look like a walking two-by-four. No wonder I have no friends -- "

Mrs. Ellis, who'd worked for the Bancrofts for less than a year, looked amazed. "You have no friends? Why not?"

Desperately in need of someone to confide in, Meredith said, "I've only pretended that everything is fine at school. The truth is, it's terrible. I'm a...a complete misfit. I've always been a misfit."

"Well, I never! There must be something wrong with the children in your school...."

"It isn't them, it's me, but I'm going to change," Meredith announced. "I've gone on a diet, and I want to do something with my hair. It's awful."

"It's not awful!" Mrs. Ellis argued, looking at Meredith's shoulder-length pale blond hair and then her turquoise eyes. "You have striking eyes and very nice hair. Nice and thick and -- "

"Colorless."

"Blond."

Meredith stared stubbornly at the mirror, her mind magnifying the flaws that existed. "I'm almost five feet seven inches tall. It's a lucky thing I finally stopped growing before I became a giant! But I'm not hopeless, I realized that on Saturday."

Mrs. Ellis's brows drew together in confusion. "What happened on Saturday to change your mind about yourself?"

"Nothing earth-shattering," Meredith said. Something earth-shattering, she thought. Parker smiled at me at the Christmas pageant. He brought me a Coke without being asked. He told me to be sure and save a dance for him Saturday at the Eppingham party. Seventy-five years before, Parker's family had founded the large Chicago bank where Bancroft & Company's funds were deposited, and the friendship between the Bancrofts and Reynoldses had endured for generations. "Everything is going to change now, not just the way I look," Meredith continued happily as she turned away from the mirror. "I'm going to have a friend too! There's a new girl at school, and she doesn't know that no one else likes me. She's smart, like I am, and she called me tonight to ask me a homework question. She called me, and we talked about all sorts of things."

"I did notice you never brought friends home from school," Mrs. Ellis said, wringing her hands in nervous dismay, "but I thought it was because you lived so far away."

"No, it isn't that," Meredith said, flopping down onto the bed and staring self-consciously at her serviceable slippers that looked just like small replicas of the ones her father wore. Despite their wealth, Meredith's father had the liveliest respect for money; all of her clothing was of excellent quality and was purchased only when necessary, always with a stern eye toward durability. "I don't fit in, you see."

"When I was a girl," Mrs. Ellis said with a sudden look of comprehension, "we were always a little leery of children who got good grades."

"It's not just that," Meredith said wryly. "It's something besides the way I look and the grades I get that makes me a misfit. It's -- all this," she said, and made a sweeping gesture that encompassed the large, rather austere room with its antique furniture, a room whose character resembled all the other forty-five rooms in the Bancroft estate. "Everyone thinks I'm completely weird because Father insists that Fenwick drive me to school."

"What's wrong with that, may I ask?"

"The other children walk or ride the school bus."

"So?"

"So they do not arrive in a chauffeur-driven Rolls!" Almost wistfully, Meredith added, "Their fathers are plumbers and accountants. One of them works for us at the store."

Unable to argue with the logic of that, and unwilling to admit it was true, Mrs. Ellis said, "But this new girl in school?she doesn't find it odd that Fenwick drives you?"

"No," Meredith said with a guilty chuckle that made her eyes glow with sudden liveliness behind her glasses, "because she thinks Fenwick is my father! I told her my father works for some rich people who own a big store."

"You didn't!"

"Yes, I did, and I -- I'm not sorry. I should have spread that around school years ago, only I didn't want to lie."

"But now you don't mind lying?" Mrs. Ellis said with a censorious look.

"It isn't a lie, not entirely," Meredith said in an imploring voice. "Father explained it to me a long time ago. You see, Bancroft & Company is a corporation, and a corporation is actually owned by the stockholders. So you see, as president of Bancroft & Company, Father is -- technically -- employed by the stockholders. Do you understand?"

"Probably not," she said flatly. "Who owns the stock?"

Meredith sent her a guilty look. "We do, mostly."

Mrs. Ellis found the whole notion of the operation of Bancroft & Company, a famous downtown Chicago department store, absolutely baffling, but Meredith frequently displayed an uncanny understanding of the business. Although, Mrs. Ellis thought with helpless ire at Meredith's father, it wasn't so uncanny -- not when the man had no interest in his daughter except when he was lecturing her about that store. In fact, Mrs. Ellis thought Philip Bancroft was probably to blame for his daughter's inability to fit in with the other girls her age. He treated his daughter like an adult, and he insisted that she speak and act like one at all times. On the rare occasions when he entertained friends, Meredith even acted as his hostess. As a result, Meredith was very much at ease with adults and obviously at a complete loss with her peers.

"You're right about one thing though," Meredith said. "I can't go on tricking Lisa Pontini about Fenwick being my father. I just thought that if she had a chance to know me first, it might not matter when I tell her Fenwick is actually our chauffeur. The only reason she hasn't found out already is that she doesn't know anyone else in our class, and she always has to go straight home after school. She has seven brothers and sisters, and she has to help out at home."

Mrs. Ellis reached out and awkwardly patted Meredith's arm, trying to think of something encouraging to say. "Things always look brighter in the morning," she announced, resorting, as she often did, to one of the cozy clichés she herself found so comforting. She picked up the dinner tray, then paused in the doorway, struck with another inspiring platitude. "And remember this," she instructed Meredith in the rising tones of one who is about to impart a very satisfying thought, "every dog has its day!"

Meredith didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Thank you, Mrs. Ellis," she said, "that is very encouraging." In mortified silence she watched the door close behind the housekeeper, then she slowly picked up the scrapbook. When the Tribune clipping had been safely taped to the page, she stared at it for a long moment, then reached out and lightly touched Parker's smiling mouth. The thought of actually dancing with him made her shiver with a mixture of terror and anticipation. This was Thursday, and the Eppingham dance was the day after tomorrow. It seemed like years to wait.

Sighing, she flipped backward through the pages of the big scrapbook. At the front were some very old clippings, yellowed now with age, the pictures faded. The scrapbook had originally belonged to her mother, Caroline, and it contained the only tangible proof in the house that Caroline Edwards Bancroft had ever existed. Everything else connected with her had been removed at Philip Bancroft's instructions.

Caroline Edwards had been an actress -- not an especially good one, according to her reviews -- but an unquestionably glamorous one. Meredith studied the faded pictures, but she didn't read what the columnists had written because she knew every word by heart. She knew that Cary Grant had escorted her mother to the Academy Awards in 1955, and that David Niven had said she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, and that David Selznick had wanted her in one of his pictures. She knew that her mother had roles in three Broadway musicals and that the crit...

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