Orphaned at a young age and later working as a servant to a wealthy suffragette, Audra Kenton finds the love of a lifetime—only to have it ripped away in an unforeseeable tragedy. Now she lives for only one reason: to give her daughter Christina, a gifted artist, everything she needs to succeed in life. But headstrong, vibrant Christina refuses to follow the path her mother has set out for her. Stubbornly forging her own path, she builds a global fashion empire in the heart of Manhattan.
Soon a mother herself, Christina wants nothing so much as for her own daughter, Kyle, to lead the company when she’s gone. From humble beginnings to the heights of wealth and success, these three women face love, heartbreak, and betrayal—each to emerge triumphant in her own way.
“Pure gold.” —Cosmopolitan
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About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Place of Birth:Yorkshire, England
Education:Christ Church Elementary School and Northcote Private School for Girls in Yorkshire, England
Read an Excerpt
Today it was her birthday.
It was the third of June in the year 1926 and she was nineteen years old.
Audra Kenton stood at the window of her room in the Fever Hospital in Ripon, where she worked as a nurse, gazing out at the back garden. She watched the play of light and shadow on the lawn, as the sunlight filtered through the leafy domes of the two great oaks that grew near the old stone wall. There was a gentle breeze and the leaves rustled and trembled under it, and shimmered with green brilliance as they caught the sun. It was radiant and balmy, a pretty day that invited and beckoned.
Matron had given Audra the afternoon off for her birthday. The problem was that she had nowhere to go and no one to spend it with. She was entirely alone in this world.
Audra only had one friend, another nurse at the hospital called Gwen Thornton, but Gwen had been summoned home to Horsforth yesterday. Her mother had been taken ill and she was needed. Weeks ago, Gwen had arranged to exchange her day off with one of the other nurses, so that she could be with Audra, celebrate this important occasion with her, and the two of them had planned a very special day. Now their elaborate plans were laid to waste.
Leaning her head against the window frame, Audra sighed, thinking of the empty hours looming ahead. Unexpectedly her throat tightened and she felt the tears gathering behind her eyes as sadness mingled with bitter disappointment trickled through her. But after only a few seconds she blinked and cleared her throat, managed to take hold of herself. Resolutely she pushed aside the negative emotions momentarily invading her, refusing to feel sorry for herself. Audra despised self-pity in others, considered it to be a sign of weakness. She was strong. Her mother had always told her that she was, and her mother had rarely been wrong about anything.
Turning away from the window, she walked over to the chair and sat down heavily, wondering what to do with herself.
She could read, of course, or do a little embroidery, or even finish the sketch of the blouse she was designing, and which she intended to make — when she could afford to buy the fabric. On the other hand, none of these occupations had any real appeal for her. Not today. Not on her birthday.
She had been so looking forward to the outing with her friend, to enjoying a few carefree hours of pleasure for once in her life. Audra had little to celebrate these days, and festive occasions were a thing of the past, a rarity indeed. In fact, her life had changed so radically, so harshly, in the last few years, she hardly recognized it as her own.
It suddenly struck her that resorting to one of those mundane hobbies, normally used to pass the time when she was off duty, would be infinitely worse than just sitting in this chair, doing nothing. They're poor substitutes, all of them, for the plans Gwen and I made.
Audra had long since trained herself not to notice this room where she lived in the hospital. But now, seeing it so clearly illuminated in the bright sunshine, she became painfully aware of its ugliness and lack of comfort. Having been born into gentility, albeit somewhat impoverished, Audra was a young woman of breeding and refinement. She possessed taste in abundance, had strong artistic leanings, and the austerity of the spartan furnishings and institutional colour scheme offended her sensibilities, made her wince in dismay.
Confronting her were walls painted a dismal porridge-beige which ran down to a floor covered with dreary grey linoleum that had seen better days. The iron bedstead, rickety night stand and chest of drawers were notable only for their shabbiness and utilitarian design. The room was chillingly bleak, intolerable at any time, but especially on this sunny afternoon. She knew she had to escape its oppressive boundaries for a short while, no matter where she went.
Her gaze fell on the dress lying on the bed, where she had placed it a short time before. It was new. She had saved up for a whole year, putting away a shilling every week, in order to buy herself a present for her birthday.
She and Gwen had gone to Harrogate two Saturdays ago with this in mind. They had wandered around for several hours, mostly window shopping and admiring the beautiful things they saw and which they knew they would never be able to afford. Audra filled with warm and affectionate feelings for Gwen as she thought of that day now.
Gwen was especially attracted to jewellers' shops, and Audra had found herself constantly cupping her hands and dutifully peering through glass at some bauble that had caught Gwen's attention. 'Oh Audra! Just look at that!' Gwen kept crying, pointing to a brooch or a ring or a pendant. At one moment she had clutched Audra's arm fiercely and whispered in awed tones, 'Have you ever seen anything like that gorgeous bangle, Audra! Why, the stones could be real the way they sparkle like diamonds. It would suit you, Audra. Let's go in ... it doesn't cost anything just to look.'
Audra had half-smiled and shaken her head, not saying a word, and she had thought of her mother's jewellery, which had been much more beautiful than any of these tawdry imitations of the real thing.
Gwen's excited exclamations and urgent proddings continued a bit too long for Audra that afternoon, and she had eventually grown exasperated, had silenced her friend with a stern look and a sharp admonition to be quiet. Immediately regretting her shortness, she had apologized to Gwen. And she had gone on to explain to her, for the umpteenth time, that she had no money to spare for frivolous items like brooches and bracelets and nonsensical hats and bottles of Devon Violets scent, which were just a few of the things Gwen constantly craved.
'You know I only ever buy clothes for myself,' Audra had said, and had added, with a tiny rueful laugh, 'and usually the most practical clothes I can find, at that, Gwen. Things I know will last me for a very long time.'
And then, not ten minutes after she had uttered these fateful words, Audra had seen the dress in the window of Madame Stella's gown shop. She had fallen in love with it instantly. It was a frock destined only to go to parties, a bit of airy, gossamer muslin. Effectively draped on a stand in the centre of the window, it was the one piece of clothing displayed. Next to it, accessories were scattered on the floor; a picture hat of cream leghorn, a parasol of ruffled cream silk, and three long strands of pearls. All had epitomized true elegance to Audra, but most particularly the dress. It was highly impractical, obviously costly and very, very beautiful. She had gazed at it for ages, not knowing when or where she would ever wear it, and yet aching to own it just the same.
Even so she had hung back, would not budge when Gwen, shrewdly observing the expression of longing on her face, had pushed open the door and insisted they go in and ask the price. Despite Audra's reluctance and her adamant refusal to enter the shop, Gwen had obviously had no intention of being thwarted. She had taken Audra's arm in a vice-like grip and frogmarched her into Madame Stella's.
Although both girls had expected the dress to be expensive, the two of them had been stunned, nevertheless, when they had learned that it cost three guineas. Audra had made to leave at once. But the redoubtable Gwen had restrained her, and had somehow managed to manoeuvre her into the fitting room before she could make a graceful escape. Not wanting to create an embarrassing scene in front of the sales lady, Audra had had no option but to try on the dress.
It was the colour that captivated her — a clear bright blue that had reminded her of the delphiniums at High Cleugh. She had not needed Gwen to tell her that it suited her to perfection; she had seen herself in the cheval mirror.
Indeed, Audra had been momentarily taken aback by her own reflection that afternoon. For the first time in some years she had acknowledged to herself that for once she looked quite pretty. Mostly she referred to herself as a 'Plain Jane', which she genuinely believed to be the truth. But in this she did herself an injustice.
Audra Kenton was not beautiful in the strictest sense but neither was she plain. She was in a category somewhere in between. There was a certain stubbornness in her well-defined face. This was reflected in the determined set of her chin and in her firm and resolute mouth, which was quite beautiful when she smiled. Her best features were a faultless, creamy complexion, glossy light brown hair glazed with a golden sheen in the summer, and lovely eyes. These were the most spectacular thing about her. They were large, set wide apart, thickly fringed with golden-brown lashes and accentuated by finely arched brows. But it was their colour that was so memorable and caused people to look at her twice. They were of a blue so deep and so vivid it was startling.
As Audra had stared back at herself in the mirror of the fitting room, she had not failed to notice how the blue of the muslin intensified their depth of colour. She also saw that the 'flapper' style of the dress was flattering and did wonders for her. Audra was small, only five feet two inches, and her lack of height was a constant source of irritation to her. Yet despite her diminutive size she was nicely proportioned, and the simple cut of the frock emphasized her pretty figure, whilst its short skirt, cut on the cross so that it flared out, drew attention to her shapely legs and slender ankles.
And so in the end, after some indecision on her part because of its price, and worried whisperings with Gwen, she had finally bought the dress. To make up the three pounds three shillings needed, Audra had used her entire savings of two pounds twelve shillings, every other penny in her purse — which was all she had in the world — plus one and six borrowed from Gwen.
'Don't look so glum,' Gwen had whispered, whilst they had been waiting for the sales lady to wrap the dress. 'It's worth every penny. Besides, it's about time you treated yourself to something nice.'
There was no question in Audra's mind that the dress was the most beautiful thing she had owned since she was a child. And a memory had stirred, a memory of another time when she had come to Harrogate shopping — with her mother and Uncle Peter. It had been 1919, just after he had returned from the Great War. She had been twelve and he had bought her a pink party frock which had entranced her just as much as the blue muslin.
As they left Madame Stella's, Audra had told Gwen of that particular trip and the pretty pink frock, had confided more about her past life and Gwen had been agog and full of questions. Audra, who was a private person and reserved by nature, had nonetheless answered some of them, not wanting to offend Gwen by appearing secretive. Later, arms linked, they had taken a leisurely stroll along The Stray, the stretch of green common carpeted with lovely flowers which made a natural tapestry of brilliant colour underneath the shady trees. Then Gwen had taken them to Betty's Café, the posh tea-room on The Parade overlooking The Stray, and had generously paid for them both, since Audra had spent all of her cash. She had also loaned her the money for her ticket back to Ripon, just as she had promised she would when Audra had been wavering in Madame Stella's. And Audra had reminded herself yet again how lucky she was to have Gwen for her friend.
At the end of their day's excursion, on the way to the bus stop, they had passed the Arcadian Rooms, where tea dances were held every afternoon in the Palm Court. Everyone knew that this was the place to go, the smart spot in town where the local swells fox-trotted and tangoed to the strains of Stan Stanton and His Syncopated Strollers.
Both young women had been itching to visit the Palm Court for weeks, and Gwen, who had learned the Charleston from her brother, had been teaching it to Audra in their off-duty hours. Audra had been astonished and thrilled when Gwen had announced she was taking them to a tea dance at the Palm Court on her birthday. 'It'll be my treat, my birthday present,' Gwen had said, beaming at her. 'And you'll wear your new dress and everyone will admire you in it.' The two of them had been bursting with excitement and anticipation as they had ridden on the bus back to Ripon, and they had been counting the days ever since.
But there would be no trip to Harrogate after all. No tea dance at the Palm Court of the Arcadian Rooms. No one to admire her or the new dress. Audra sighed. Earlier she had planned to wear it just for her own pleasure, although she had not been quite sure where she would go in it all by herself. But now she changed her mind.
Audra was nothing if not practical, and it struck her that it would be foolish to risk ruining it, or getting it crumpled and soiled. Far wiser to save the frock for another special occasion, she reasoned. And there's bound to be one in the future, now that I have a friend like Gwen. Perhaps we'll go to the church Garden Fête in August, and then there's Gwen's birthday in September. We must celebrate that. Yes, something's bound to come up, she reassured herself, her natural optimism surfacing as it invariably did.
Audra was blessed with a sunny disposition and a cheerful personality, and it was these traits, coupled with her strong will and intelligence, which had saved her in the past. They helped her to cope with her problems in the most positive way. She never let her troubles burden her for very long, sought always to solve them with expediency. And if this was not feasible, she tried not to dwell on them unnecessarily.
Now she roused herself, took the blue frock off the bed and returned it to the wardrobe in the corner of the room.
After she had slipped out of her blue-and-white-striped nurse's uniform and put it away, she peered at the other garments hanging there, wondering what to wear for her walk in the country.
Although she did not have an extensive wardrobe, the clothes she did own were of good quality, and because she was fastidious they were never anything but immaculate. For economic reasons, Audra made all of her summer clothes herself, and these were mostly light-weight dresses in the darker spectrum of colours; to her practical turn of mind these were guaranteed to wear better than the paler shades. Finally her hand came to rest on a navy cotton dress with a dropped waistline and a sailor collar trimmed with white. She pulled it out, found her black leather walking shoes with flat heels, and began to dress.
Suddenly Audra thought of Gwen. How self-centred I'm being, she chastised herself. Here am I, concerned about my birthday, when Gwen has a sick mother to nurse. Audra wished she could go to Horsforth today, to help Gwen, but it was much too far to travel with only an afternoon free. Poor Gwen must be run off her feet, not to mention dreadfully worried, she thought. Then her face brightened as she adjusted the collar of her dress, pivoted to look at herself in the small mirror standing on the chest of drawers. Gwen's father was a doctor, and her brother Charlie was a medical student at Leeds University. Mrs Thornton was in good hands. She would soon be well again, and Gwen would be returning to the hospital in no time at all.
As she left her room and hurried down the corridor, it struck Audra how truly attached she had become to her friend. Ever since Gwen had come to work at the hospital a year ago, her life had changed for the better and it was much more bearable now. Until then none of the other nurses had ever attempted to be friends with her. Audra knew that this was mainly because of her background, her manners and her cultured way of speaking.
The other nurses thought she was a snob, that she was stuck up and unapproachable. But this was not true at all. It was her shyness that held her somewhat apart, prevented her from making the first gesture.
As if she had instinctively understood this, happy, laughing, gregarious Gwen had paid not the slightest attention to her reserve. Having singled Audra out as the one girl she wanted as her friend, she had persisted, and had broken down the protective walls Audra had built around herself. Within the first week of knowing each other they had become inseparable.
I don't know what I'd do without Gwen, Audra thought, banging the front door of the hospital behind her. She's the only person I have in the world.CHAPTER 2
She had not intended to go to High Cleugh.
But before she realized it she was almost there.
When she had set out from the hospital, Audra had had no particular destination in mind. She had taken the road that led to Sharow and Copt Hewick, both small villages on the outskirts of Ripon.
There was no special reason for her to go there, other than that they were pleasant little spots; also, the route was picturesque, the surrounding landscape pastoral and unusually pretty at this time of year.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Act of Will"
Copyright © 2014 Barbara Taylor Bradford.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
An Excerpt from A Woman of Substance,
Other Barbara Taylor Bradford titles from RosettaBooks,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another marvelous book by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Act of Will is a story of love for a child. The measures that a mother will go through to make sure that her child has everything in life, especially the chances that she herself did not have. This is a very moving story and a real page turner. I loved this book.
It was a wonderful book that captured the lives of three women. All three women are grandmother, daughter, grandaughter. This story shows all three of there lives, and was a terrific romance novel.
This story involves three generations of women who make agonizing choices to better themselves. But, their choices didn't seem that agonizing since the characters weren't emotionally engaging. The publisher categorized this as a work of fiction, but there are a couple of explicit sex scenes that make it a romance that's mildly historical.