The crack of an open palm against Rosalie’s cheek harshly tore her out of her contemplative musings. Her ribs struck the front of the vanity, jostling the lead crystal perfume atomizers and small cut-glass and silver pots filled with various creams and colors across its marble top.
“Add a bit more powder over that scar by your eye, darling.” Her husband roughly grabbed her chin, lifting her face. “Aren’t you going to welcome me home?” He lightly kissed her cheek and then examined her with a critical eye. “A touch of rouge to your other cheek will suffice.”
She flinched when he reached for her head. He plucked a bejeweled barrette from above her ear and held it in front of her nose, his hand shaking with his anger. “This clip with the blue sapphires is inappropriate for this evening.” He tossed it haphazardly onto the vanity, and it clattered to the floor.
“The dress you wanted me to wear is blue,” Rosalie whispered.
His voice was hard and filled with the ice of winter. “What did I say?”
“Yes, Royce,” she murmured and lowered her eyes.
“It is our annual Autumn open house, after all.” Royce tugged at the cuffs of his crisply starched, snowy white shirt and fingered the golden cufflinks. “The combs and necklace with the Imperial topaz I bought you—where are they? I think their apricot hue will best match my tie and handkerchief. Lovely as they are, it’s a shame they won’t camouflage those dull white hairs you have coming in.”
Royce strode to his silent butler on the other side of the large bedroom, where his freshly cleaned charcoal grey vest and jacket hung. He shrugged on the satin-lined vest and spun to face his unmoving wife as he buttoned it. “It’s long past time you did something about your hair. I’ll have my secretary, Angela, set up an appointment for you at the Mary Alice Salon next week. That’ll give you plenty of time for touch-ups before Royce Junior returns from Yale for Thanksgiving. You know he’s bringing his fiancé home to meet us. You’ll want to be presentable.”
“Charming girl. She comes from a very good family, as well—the Carlisles of Chicago. In the photograph Royce sent, her hair is nearly the same shade of blonde as yours used to be—as Royce Junior’s is.” He was quiet a moment as he concentrated on precise adjustments of his tie. “He’s done so well on his rowing team—leading them to victory this year. As expected, they made him captain. They are sure to win gold in the Olympics next year. I can’t wait to see him again.”
He crossed the room to his dresser and slid open a small top drawer. “When he graduates in three years, he’ll be quite the addition at the bank.” Royce chose a gleaming piece and frowned. “Rosalie, come here.”
She sprang from her chair and approached her husband, trying to hide the habitual limp. The coming cold weather aggravated the old injury in her hip.
“I want this one.” He dropped the weighty trinket in her palm.
She nodded silently as she affixed the golden K-embossed pin to the rust-colored silk of his tie. Nervously, she cleared her throat. “Edward will be arriving from Cornell in two weeks. He’s been doing quite well in their medical program.”
Royce sneered down at her. “Yes. Edward. Pity your first child inherited your mother’s auburn hair.”
Pain flashed across her features for only an instant. It was replaced by a small spark of determination. “He … he’s been gone at school for years—ever since he started.”
“And you know why.” Royce grabbed her wrists and shoved her away from him. “He favors your family, where Royce Junior and Lillian favor mine, except for their light hair.”
The flames grew brighter in the depths of Rosalie’s violet eyes. “I love all my children.”
“Your beautiful children. Your beautiful child. We’ll never know if Edward is mine will we?” Royce scoffed. “Don’t pretend, Rosalie. Just like me, you could barely stand to look at him.”
“And that’s my fault? You always hated him. I’m surprised you allowed him to go to Cornell.” Rosalie stood to her full height in a clear challenge. “I’m glad he looks like me. At least he doesn’t look like any of those—”
Royce lunged at her with a hateful leer on his face, and savagely grabbed her arm. “Shut up!” he hissed. “His surname is King whether he’s mine or not. What would people think if he went to any but the best schools?” He drew back his fist.
The fire died in Rosalie’s eyes, and she cowered away from him, tensing for another iron-fisted strike. A light knock sounded at the bedroom door, saving her from another blow.
“You need to fix your hair and makeup.” He snarled under his breath and pushed her away.
She stumbled but kept herself from falling by clutching at the edge of the vanity.
Royce jerked his vest back into place, palmed his hair smooth, and reached for the door knob. With a warning glare at Rosalie, he rearranged his features into a smile and swung the door wide.
“Lillian! You look stunning! You’ll turn every head in the room this evening. Is that the diamond bracelet I gave you for your last birthday?” Royce wrapped his arms around his youngest in a brief embrace, taking care not to disturb her golden curls.
“Yes, father,” she sniffled, peering up at him with tear-filled eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Royce gently chucked her under her chin. “Whatever it is, you know I’ll do my best to fix it.”
Lillian sniffed again and pouted prettily. “My dress is ruined!”
Royce stepped back and studied his daughter. “Your dress is beautiful, darling. I’m sure your mother would agree. Won’t you, Rosalie?”
Rosalie paused, powder puff in hand. Without turning to face them, she nodded quickly and returned to powdering her face.
“But can’t you see, father? Esme made the hem a half inch too long. I think you should fire her. She’s never liked me, and now she’s ruined my dress!” Lillian exclaimed tugging at the light pink material. “You know the Newton’s son, Michael, will be here tonight, and—”
“Sweetheart,” Royce crooned, as he cupped her cheek. “Michael Newton will notice nothing except how exquisite you are. You know Esme has worked for us for a long time and has always done a fine job. If she hadn’t, I would have fired her years ago.” He took his youngest child’s hand between his and gave it a tender squeeze. “Now dry your tears. You know our guests will be here soon. I’ll speak to Esme about it later. Let me grab my jacket, and then I’ll be ready to escort my favorite girl downstairs.”
Lillian, a smile on her face, lifted up on her tiptoes and kissed her father’s cheek. “Thank you, father. Mother, are you coming?”
Royce buttoned his blazer and placed his daughter’s hand on his arm to lead her from the room. He paused and spoke over his shoulder, catching Rosalie’s attention. “She’ll be only a few more minutes. At your mother’s age, it takes a bit longer to get ready. Oh, but please hurry, my love. You wouldn’t want to be late for your own dinner party.” Royce, his daughter in hand, exited the room and quietly closed the door.
At the click of the latch, Rosalie released a relieved breath, and her rigid shoulders slumped. Slowly, she opened her eyes and stared at the washed-out reflection in the mirror. She took in the lifeless eyes, the gaunt powdered and rouged cheeks. With renewed urgency, she hastily ran the silver hair brush through her faded locks, and then set the gem-encrusted combs just so.
Mindful of the occasional catch in her aching hip, she stood from the chair and smoothed the pale blue silk of the cocktail dress her husband had chosen.
It was lovely. Royce would have only the best.
She was thinner than she had ever been, but everyone would be too busy admiring the large peach-toned topaz stones in her jewelry to notice how her collar bones jutted out.
Quickly finding and clipping on the matching earrings, she perused her reflection again.
Royce would approve.
Rosalie pasted a beaming smile on her face—the one she reserved for dinner guests and clients invited to their expansive home in the most exclusive neighborhood in Rochester. Rosalie Lillian Hale King would be the gracious and accommodating hostess Royce’s position demanded she be.
After all, she had everything she’d ever dreamed of.