Deeper than the city streets, the subways, even the dry riverbeds that no longer flow, are the roots of a tree that remembers love and tragedy…
Financier Dina Rowland‘s assignment is to make fashion designer Leo Goranson a lot of money. But the more she knows of him, the more repugnant his personal life is to her. Not the least inconsequential is his unbreakable hold on his greatest asset: supermodel Christabel. One touch and the power–and responsibility–of Dina’s long-hidden heritage threatens to crumble the careful plans she has made for her life.
Christa knows there is no escaping her tormentor, but she has a plan to deny him what he ultimately wants from her. The past can’t be changed. Having long accepted her fate she is unprepared for the wild feelings that Dina’s eyes arouse in her. There is passion, certainly, but also the rarest feeling of all to her: hope.
This revised and augmented second edition of Karin Kallmaker’s gothic tale of two captive souls will move and inspire a new generation of readers. Originally published in 1998 under the pen name of Laura Adams, this imaginative and passionate story is sure to please new and old fans alike.
Edited by Lila Empson. Published by Bella Books.
Christabel was inspired by Samuel Coleridge’s epic poem. I owe pioneer Jeanette Foster a debt of gratitude for her work in Sex Variant Women in Literature which detailed the poem’s lesbian subtext. Unlike Coleridge, I presume that a witch met in the woods is a good witch.
- Christabel at MegaSceneThe perfect read for a dark night, a cozy armchair and a warm fire in the fireplace.
- Christabel at the Lesbian ReviewKallmaker has created a moody, epic, romantic, passionate novel…
- Reader Comments about ChristabelLove can conquer anything, even time and always evil. That’s the message of this book, which I could not put down.
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Dina Rowland stuffed the last of her notes and the extra copies in her briefcase and hightailed it after the rest of the group. Even though she seethed at being left behind to clean up, her smile was bright and easy as she joined The Boys at the elevator.
“That went well, I think,” Doug Trenton ventured.
Elliott Brinks, ever the kiss-ass, agreed. “We knocked their socks off.”
“They left the room before we did,” Dina observed after the elevator started its descent. “They didn’t want to discuss anything among themselves.”
“And that is not good,” George Berkeley pronounced. His opinion was final. “As usual, Dee, you’re right on. Your presentation was killer, even if the client is a moron.”
“Doug did the graphs,” Dina said to be fair, but she cracked a lopsided smile at George. She liked him immensely—he wasn’t the one who had left her behind to clean up. Doug and Elliott were her peers and should have helped out. They were too stupid to know that George had noticed their arrogant assumption that the woman in the group cleaned up. George didn’t miss anything; he read people as easily as he read the marquee in Times Square. His intuition had made him rich. He was beginning to respect Dina’s intuition as well. She had been dead right for a lot of deals in the last couple of years.
Fifth Avenue was treacherous with open umbrellas. She struggled to open her own, and then gratefully accepted shelter under George’s. She saw the look Doug and Elliott exchanged. Like almost everyone else, they thought she and George were lovers. She readily told anyone who would listen that she was a lesbian, but having no partner to point to, or even a passing girlfriend or two, didn’t help her case. Most people preferred sex, not talent, as the reason Dina stood so high in George’s estimation.
Her feet were drenched within moments, and they’d only just dried out from the trip here. Dina and George waited for Doug, who had to have his fix at the ubiquitous coffee bar on the corner. Elliott managed to hail a cab, and they scrunched together for the nine-block journey to the offices of Berkeley & Holland Investments and Capital. Except for the rain, Dina would have walked and arrived there ahead of the cab, which, after a five-block detour, finally deposited them on Church Street outside their office.
George didn’t seem inclined to rehash the meeting with the moronic never-to-be-clients. They wanted to take their company public and hadn’t cared for Berkeley & Holland’s conservative estimates of how rich they would get and the long list of ifs that had precluded getting rich. Without a doubt some other firm had promised them the sky, and with a great deal of luck, these people might actually have a positive initial public offering. But Berkeley & Holland didn’t believe in luck, and they weren’t so hungry that they wanted to risk their industry-leading record with IPOs. Millionaire-making IPOs had tailed off in the mid-1990s and had yet to recover.
Dina kicked off her wet shoes in the office and spread her damp coat over the couch.
Her assistant, Jeff Blake, took the briefcase from her hand. “I’ll take care of these. You’ve got sixteen messages, and the designer will be here in five minutes.”
“We took a cab,” Dina said, which explained their lateness. Even in her stockings she was three inches taller than Jeff, but he never seemed to mind looking up. Eliot always seemed afraid to look her in the eye because of the five inches she had on him.
“Not rotten, pointless. What’s that designer’s name again?”
“Leonard Goranson.” Jeff’s exasperated tone implied that Dina should have remembered. He pointed to his shirt front. “Imported. See? A college buddy who works for Coca-Cola in London acquired it for me.”
Dina scrutinized the tiny lettering. “Oh. So he designed that shirt?”
“The man is a genius. It’s the only thing I have of his, and it took six months to pay for it.”
“Are you sure you’re straight?”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “Not every well-dressed man in this town is gay. We don’t have time for chitchat, either.”
“Tyrant.” She sipped the plain, hot coffee she found on her desk. “You’re a damned good tyrant, though. You treat me well.”
“And vice versa.” Having emptied her briefcase of presentation detritus headed for the shredder, Jeff whisked back to his workstation outside her door. He was a maniac with both eyes on Dina’s office as his future home. However, Jeff seemed to understand the only way to get Dina’s office was to find Dina another one-one on the partner’s floor, for instance. Other assistants would have been busy stabbing her in the back, but it wasn’t Jeff’s style. Dina had mentioned Jeff often to George. George liked loyalty in people. If she did move up to partner, God please let it be soon, Jeff also had a very good shot at moving up.
She returned two phone calls and finished the coffee before Jeff buzzed.
“Goranson is running late. He wants to meet you at the storefront. This means I risked wearing this shirt for nothing.”
Dina’s sigh was as tired as Jeff’s. The rain had not let up. “Get me directions.”
Jeff leaned in a few minutes later. “Goranson’s assistant is a rude little shit, just so you know. The gallery is going to be located two blocks down from Bergdorf Goodman. Fifty-fifth Street at Fifth Avenue. You do know where Bergdorf’s is, don’t you, ducks?”
Dina laughed at Jeff’s brutal rendition of a Manchester accent. “I do. Pricey district. No wonder Goranson needs capital. And it’s a gallery, not a store?”
“Goranson sells art, apparently, not clothing.”
“I’ll remember that.”
And she would, too. LG Incorporated was her bambino to make into a gold mine. It was her ticket to the partner’s floor. If she made partner she might actually be able to take a weekend off. She could even get something that amounted to a life. She was getting past the young-and-hungry stage. She repacked her briefcase with the Goranson file and the work she was taking home. Her PDA and voice recorder fit neatly into the pockets designed for them.
“Want me to meet you downstairs with a sandwich? You can eat it in the cab.”
“I’m walking over to the subway,” Dina said. “A cab will take forever. Don’t worry, mother, I’ll eat something after the meet with Goranson.”
“If you die while I’m your assistant, no one is going to promote me.” Jeff excelled at pragmatism.
“I ate lunch,” Dina began in her defense, then faltered. “Oh. That was yesterday, wasn’t it? Well, I’ll eat a big dinner.”
Jeff was clearly unconvinced, but went back to work on the Doering prospectus.
Once on the street, Dina ruthlessly raised her umbrella and shoved her way into the subway-bound foot traffic. As she eased into the tide of rushing people, she concentrated on avoiding umbrella spikes. The steps to the subway were slick and treacherous, but she was able to squeeze her way onto the second uptown-bound train. She spent the entire journey with someone’s elbow jammed into her ribs and a briefcase scraping the back of one knee. As always in the subway, she followed the social rules: no eye contact. You never knew when someone was waiting for that to signal their personal apocalypse.
At Fifty-Seventh Street she struggled back up to the surface against the tide of tourists and commuters. Fifth Avenue’s wide sidewalks were packed building to curb with scowling commuters scurrying home after a long week of sodden work. Dina’s stomach rumbled—she wanted her cozy chair and a bowl of hot soup.
The street smelled like wet wolfhound and diluted urine. Manhattan only looked poetic from the second floor or higher. The smell of the street would cling to her, which was depressing since she had taken special care with her wardrobe this morning so as not to appear unlearned to this designer person. Her Donna Karan suit was now rumpled and wet, but it was still a timeless Donna Karan original. Her shoes were soaked, and they pinched her feet, but the Italian leather still looked it.
She passed Bergdorf’s with a brief but longing gaze at a thick cashmere sweater in the window. She had thought that every inch of this district—one of the most famous and lucrative shopping areas in the world—was occupied with waiting lines for leases. You couldn’t ask for a better location, and with retail the three top priorities were location, location, location.
She turned the corner at Fifty-Fifth and surveyed the street. It was not quite as posh as Fifth Avenue proper. Gucci, Trump Tower and Tiffany’s were all hard to compete with. But the corner building was eye-catching, which might account for why she had never noticed the building next to it. It wasn’t that it was nondescript, but she just found no reason to look at it. She focused on the display windows and realized she couldn’t see through the glass.
She blinked and felt dizzy for a second, then shook her head. Not now, she thought. She didn’t care that her mother had warned her, she still didn’t believe she’d inherited some sort of so-called “gift.” Since her mother’s death three years ago, she’d been having…flashes, for want of a better word. Flashes of intuition and prescience.
In the last hours of her life, her mother had told Dina that the gift passed from eldest daughter to eldest daughter, usually after death. Dina had not believed it. Still didn’t. She took a deep breath and ignored the heaviness that washed over her as she approached the building. The place made her skin crawl, and she wasn’t even inside.
At closer range, of course, she could see into the display windows. But beyond was impenetrable. The place was downright scary, a bad image for a store. Remember, she told herself, this isn’t a store. It’s a gallery. No doubt many cosmetic changes were planned for the exterior, and once done she was sure the building would be fine. It would be fine.
She shook off the nonsensical prickles of fear and pushed her way through the door, which was propped open with a box. She gratefully dumped her saturated umbrella on the floor next to several others. There were no lights, but she heard voices, as if people were just out of sight in the darkness. No wonder the windows had seemed dark-they were. Nothing sinister about it.
Her voice echoed. “Hello? Mr. Goranson? It’s Dina Rowland from Berkeley and Holland.”
Light abruptly flooded the foyer, and there was a cheer from the group of men at the rear of the first floor. Dina was temporarily dazzled. When her vision cleared, she looked around her with appreciation. Whoever had had the space before had done a nice job-she stood in a three-story atrium. A spiral staircase with gleaming brass banisters coiled upward. She took a deep breath and shook off the last of the heebie-jeebies she’d picked up from the exterior.
She quickly focused on the three men walking toward her. Man one: black, close-cropped hair, off-the-rack suit, metal briefcase. The construction engineer, probably. Man two: not just white but translucent, swishy, designer suit, shirt looking similar to Jeff’s but probably costing twice as much, sheaf of papers. The obnoxious assistant probably. Because man three, with the shoulder-length hair caught back in a ponytail, bronzed skin, and soft black leather pants and matching jacket, screamed artiste with every step. Dina was taken aback. Leonard Goranson was damned attractive, and he knew it.
His handshake was cold and two seconds too long. He was perhaps an inch taller, but he was trying to make it seem more. The assistant didn’t bother. Jason Williams was indeed the construction engineer. His handshake was warm and hearty as he reminded Dina of his previous work with other B and H clients.
During her brief chat with Williams, Dina sensed Goranson’s gaze on her, evaluating her clothes and her body. She was sure he did it to everyone, but she found his lack of subtlety annoying.
“So we were just in the process of finding the lights,” Williams was saying. “I haven’t seen the entire structure yet.”
“Why don’t we have a tour?” Goranson’s voice was as cultured and accented as any Shakespearean actor’s, but it was slightly flavored with an ever-present smugness. She already didn’t like this guy, but she told herself to get over it. She reminded herself that becoming a partner at B and H was very, very important to her, making Goranson important to her. Her personal feelings didn’t enter into it.
The narrow building was ideal for a haute couture establishment. With only three floors above ground level, it was too small for a lot of inventory, especially when the retail space had to be uncluttered. There would be no crowded rounds of clothing or tables with bargains in Goranson’s gallery.
She took some notes while Goranson expounded on his decorating theme and more when Williams made comments about structural changes that might be needed.
They returned to the ground floor and headed for the basement. After some fumbling, Williams found the lights and they made their way into the most depressing gray room Dina had ever seen.
“We’ll make some changes here, too. Even if it’s just the accounting people, a client may wander down here.” Goranson made it plain that only what clients thought mattered.
“Where does this go?” Dina gestured at another door that looked as if it might be at the top of another flight.
Williams consulted some blueprints. “That’s a subbasement. Might be useful for secure records storage. Let’s take a look.”
Dina swallowed when she heard the drip of water after Williams opened the door. She let the three men go ahead, which turned out to be a good idea since she was overcome with dizziness as she crossed the threshold. She gripped the banister and prayed no one noticed before she could get herself under control.
She took four or five deep breaths, and then opened her eyes slowly. The light was dim and the room small. The walls, in addition to the floor, were unfinished concrete. The source of the water drip and damp smell was a section of concrete that had cracked, letting a few roots curl in. Roots to what-just thinking about it made her dizzy again. The room itself wasn’t a problem. It held echoes of dull business. But beyond the walls something…something was… Dina shook her head violently and retreated through the door behind her.
The dizziness immediately faded. She should have eaten something, that was all.
“Are you all right?” Goranson’s solicitous tone snapped Dina back to reality.
“I’m fine. I get a little claustrophobic.”
“No reason for you to go down there again, then.”
She guessed that most women melted at the merest sign of his concern, but she knew his concern was for the millions Dina could bring by way of investors, not for any discomfort she might feel. A warning bell sounded in her mind-it was not her mother’s “gift” helping her, just simple intuition. It would be a mistake to owe this man anything, even something as simple as a supportive hand at the back. She drew herself up to her full height and found a steady smile.
“It’s going to take me about two weeks to do a complete report on the building,” Williams was saying.
“I’ll be back in London by then. Just fax it.”
“Send me a copy, too,” Dina said. She handed Williams her card. “You know how we work.”
“I’d prefer reviewing the information before it’s sent to anyone else,” Goranson said quickly.
Dina saw Williams hesitate, then look at her with a silent plea.
“Mr. Goranson,” she began.
She had to swallow hard to use his first name. It stung on the way through her mouth. “Leonard. Berkeley and Holland has a particular way of working. It’s why we’re who we are. We’re not one of those firms that pastes their name on their client’s work and sends it out to investors.”
“I should hope not, given your fees.” Charmingly said, but Goranson’s gaze was flat.
“When I send out your prospectus to the investors, I will tell them in all honesty that I drew my conclusions and made my financial estimates based on direct-emphasis, direct-knowledge and receipt of information from people like Mr. Williams. The investor will have only my word that you had no undue influence over Mr. Williams’s estimates of what it will take to ready this building for your gallery. I never lie to investors. It’s bad business, and it’s expensive to you in the end. Any hint of any sleight of hand on my part, and investors start raising their interest rates. That is, if they stay in the deal. And the stock investors will want to pay less.”
“I understand. May I call you Dina?” At her nod, he continued. “Then we’ll receive information simultaneously? You’ll want to be present at initial meetings with furnishers, decorators, the stateside representatives from my textile suppliers?”
“Yes to all,” Dina said to Goranson. “It’s how B and H does business. I’ll also have to personally see your assets that you’re pledging as security—I know you’re not securitizing the entire investment, but what assets you are going to pledge I’ll need to examine myself.”
For some reason, this statement made Goranson smile. Dina repressed a shudder. “I think I can arrange that.”
“Great,” Dina said with what she hoped came across as enthusiasm. “Just get me a list of the assets and I’ll arrange to verify them.”
“Make a note, Gerrard.” Goranson gestured at his assistant, who did make a note, all the while giving Dina a look that said the effort he was going to was all her fault.
“Thank you. I intend to make this transaction my number one priority. George Berkeley will personally review everything I produce, as well.”
Very good, then.” Goranson glanced at the heavy gold watch on his wrist. “I’ve got an engagement to run to. It just came up this afternoon.”
Everyone turned to the soft voice behind them. For the third time in the last hour, Dina was stricken with vertigo. Surely it was just hunger and fatigue. PMS, maybe. Through the shoulders of the men she saw a woman, or a girl, no, a woman. Her dark eyes were huge and her skin alabaster with rose-stained cheeks and lips. She seemed like a mist, almost as if she wasn’t there. But as she moved down the stairs with a flowing grace that mesmerized Dina, she solidified in Dina’s mind. She had to be a model, but unlike most models, there was nothing boyish or waiflike about her. She was all woman, lushly female.
“You wanted to examine my assets?” Goranson gestured at the newcomer, who stood at the bottom of stairs. “This is my chief asset, la Christabel.”
Dina looked at Goranson and knew that he understood assets were something you owned. That was when she began to hate him.
* * *
Leo looked at me speculatively, trying to figure out how to best make use of me. Not for gain, but for idle amusement during what he called a deadly dull trip. He glanced at the woman next to him. Ah, I was to be used for her distress.
I looked at her for the first time.
It was as if a million candles flashed in my eyes. It took all my strength not to flinch. I never let Leo see me flinch anymore. But my eyes could hardly bear to look at her, she was so bright.
I am used to fog. In a world of gray only dark and light are visible. I am draped in dark shadows. But then I saw her. Saw her with more than my eyes, with senses I hadn’t known I possessed.
By her light I could see so many things clearly for the first time: Gerrard’s sharp little teeth, his twitching nose. And Leo—in her light I could barely stand to look at him. So charming on the surface, but his flesh was pulled tight over a hungry and insatiable darkness.
She was looking at me now. I saw why Leo was so pleased with himself. He saw her light, and I was going to be used to bend the light to his way. If her light wouldn’t bend, he would extinguish it. Darkness was his specialty.
She was walking toward me, Leo having said something about not being able to show me around the town tonight and putting her in the awkward position of agreeing to show me the sights. We’d been here several days; I hardly needed an escort. Our schedule was also very tight and none of the models had much in the way of social time. Apparently, I was expected to make time for Ms. Rowland.
I didn’t protest. It was pointless—Leo would have his way. And I found myself wanting her light closer to me.
I don’t believe in holy things anymore. I don’t think I ever did, but if I’d clung to any belief in divine aid, Leo had driven it out of me.
Leo had proven to me how powerless holy things are. And she was not a holy being; it was not a saint who asked me if I liked museums. But her light came from some source that Leo could never tap, a place I would never go. I could only nourish the hope that she wasn’t harmed by my selfish desire to warm myself near her.
I turned from the dark cold of the building, from Leo’s disdain and Gerrard’s disgust, and followed her into the watery light of early evening.