Timmie Parker sat with one leg tucked under her at her desk. As the stress of the morning increased, she had shoved her long blond hair into a rubber band, and by noon there were four pencils and a pen stuck through it. She wore a clean but wrinkled plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, over a tank top, torn jeans, and high-top Converse, and no makeup. She had the tall, lean, elegant frame of her father. She was six feet tall in bare feet, twenty-nine years old, and had a master’s in social work from Columbia. She was currently working for a foundation whose mission was to find free or low-cost housing for eligible members of the homeless population of New York, and she’d been at her desk since six o’clock that morning trying to catch up on work. There was a mountain of files on her desk. And she would have liked to find a place to live for every single one, and knew that if she was lucky and continued pounding on government agencies and other resources they used, she’d find a home for one or two who were eligible. The word “eligible” was used as a catch-all phrase to filter out all those who needed it most.
It was a sweltering July day, and as usual her air conditioner wasn’t working. She could already tell it was going to be one of those days where nothing worked quite the way she wanted it to, and she’d be delivering bad news to some of her most desperate clients. Heartbreak was her stock in trade. She lived in a permanent state of outrage over the injustices in the system, and how ineffective it was to help her clients. Helping the homeless had been her passion since her teens. She was a dedicated and deeply caring though often angry person. Her tirades over social issues at the dinner table in her youth had been frequent. And she had spent all the years since trying to do something about it. Above all, Timmie Parker wasn’t a quitter—she worked tirelessly for those she served. And once she found them housing, she stuck with them. Once they were isolated in tiny government-owned efficiency apartments, without the support system they had come to rely on in the streets, loneliness, despair, and suicide became serious risks.
Timmie had a hundred great ideas about how to make things work better, but there was never enough money or support teams. Poverty programs had been slashed in the economic crisis, private foundation funds were dwindling, too, and no one in government would listen. Timmie felt like she was emptying the ocean with a thimble, as she watched her clients slip through the cracks, waiting a year or more to enter free detox programs or qualify for a place to live. The women fared worse than the men on the streets and were often victims of violent crimes in shelters. She faced miles of red tape every day, trying to help people fill out forms for disability benefits or ID cards. Her soft spot was always teens, but it was easier to refer them to youth programs around the city, and they were more resourceful about surviving on the streets. Timmie had already seen six clients by noon that day and had a dozen more to see that afternoon. She rarely left the office before eight or nine p.m. and sometimes stayed till midnight, and came in long before office hours began every day. Her work was her life, and for now it was all she wanted.
She’d lived with a man in grad school, who had cheated on her with her best friend. And she had been engaged to another man after that, who cheated on her, too, though at least not with someone she knew. She’d broken up with him and since then had poured all her love, passion, and energy into her work, and hadn’t dated anyone for the past two years. She often said that the women in her family were unlucky. Her younger sister Juliette had an unfailing weakness for losers. They sponged off her for as long as they could, took advantage of her gentleness and kindness, and eventually, after getting everything they could out of her, dumped her for someone else. And the only one surprised by it was her sister, who would cry over it for months, and then find another one just as bad.
Her mother, Véronique, had spent the twenty years after her divorce being loving and supportive of their charming, handsome father, who had been a cheater, too. She had discovered that he had been unfaithful to her during their entire marriage, which ended over a twenty-three-year-old supermodel. He had had a trail of beautiful girls ever since, while Véronique made excuses for him, and said things like “you know how your father is.” Timmie knew all too well how their father was, and she had finally come to the conclusion that all men were the same. Charming, often handsome, and rarely honest, they cheated and lied and used women. She had never been close to her father because of it, and was horrified to discover that the men she got involved with were no different, although never as charming and handsome as her father, who was a master at the seduction game. Few women could resist him. He could charm the proverbial birds off the trees, a characteristic she had come to hate. She hated charming men, and her mother and sisters accused her of hating all men. She didn’t, she insisted, just the liars and cheaters, and the men who seemed to fall for her. She instantly assumed there was something wrong with them if they wanted to be with her.
Only their youngest sister, Joy, had avoided the same fate. She had always been their father’s favorite, because she was so beautiful, and looked just like their mother, who was still beautiful at fifty-two. Both Véronique and Joy had thick dark hair, porcelain-white skin, and violet eyes, although Joy was taller than their mother and had modeled in college. Since she was old enough to talk, she had always managed to wrap their father around her little finger and get anything she wanted from him, but she kept her distance from them all. Joy was the most independent, and stayed aloof from the men in her life, too. It was easy to see that she was afraid to get hurt. She was always getting involved with men who lived on the opposite coast, or who were as focused on their careers as she was, so she could keep them at arm’s length. They all seemed to adore her but were never around.
Timmie liked to point out that none of them had decent relationships, which she attributed to what she called “the family curse.” In her opinion, their father had condemned them to a fatal attraction to the wrong men. It was a part of her that she hadn’t been able to change so far and now no longer tried. She had too much else on her plate, and finding housing for her clients was a lot more important to her than meeting the right guy. At this point, she didn’t really care.
The phone rang on her desk, between clients, and she was in a rush to see the people waiting for her. She thought of letting it go to voice mail but didn’t want to miss a call from a client in distress, or any of the housing agencies she had contacted that morning by phone and e-mail, so sounding stressed, she picked it up.
“Timmie Parker,” she said tersely, in an official voice. She wasn’t a warm, fuzzy person, although she had a good heart, as witnessed by her job.
“Hi, Timmie. Arnold,” the caller announced himself, and a chill ran down her spine. The voice at the other end was instantly familiar. It was Arnold Sands, her father’s attorney and closest friend. She had known him since she was a child. Her father had been very ill for the past year, after a stroke left him incapacitated and in a nursing home. She had seen him two weeks before, and he had drifted in and out of consciousness, while she sat there silently, watching him and holding his hand. His left side was paralyzed, and it was painful to see him so diminished. He had always been vital and looked years younger than he was, until the stroke. He had been slowly slipping away for the past year, at eighty. And despite her disapproval of his lifestyle for most of her life, it was still comforting to know she had a father, and there was always the secret, unspoken, magical belief that one day they could turn things around and have an honest relationship, and he would magically become someone she could admire and count on. She knew that was never going to happen, but as long as he was alive, she clung to that hope. He had never been there for anyone, not for her, her mother, or her sisters. Her mother had forgiven him for it. Timmie never had.
“I’m sorry to call you at work,” Arnold said, sounding serious, and Timmie sensed instantly what was coming.
“He slipped away quietly last night.” They all knew it had been inevitable, and it had taken longer than they thought. Juliette had gone to see him several times a week, Joy hadn’t visited him in two months—she lived in L.A. and was busy and seemed to have the hardest time facing him in that condition. She did everything she could to avoid it. Timmie had gone to see him every few weeks, although she hated doing it. And their mother had seen him a month before, in June, before she left for the summer in the South of France. Véronique had rented a house near St. Tropez for two months, and she had spent a day with Paul before she left, and had confessed to Timmie that she was afraid it might be the last time she’d see him, but she said that they’d said everything they needed to say. She didn’t tell her daughter, but Paul had apologized to her for his many failings as a husband, and even as a friend, and she had been at peace when she left. She had come to terms with all of it many years before. Twenty years since they’d been married was a long time, and Véronique was a forgiving person. She wasn’t bitter about the end of their marriage, or the reasons it had ended, or even the enormous settlement she had given him, which he had been squandering on other women and his comfortable lifestyle and excessive luxuries ever since. The settlement hadn’t hurt Véronique financially, nor the girls. They had depended on their mother when they were younger and never on him.
Copyright © 2016 by Danielle Steel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.