“What a spectacular house!” Elloree said.
“You got that right. It’s a spectacle. It’s a damn dinosaur. Costs a fortune to heat and takes a staff to keep it up,” he told her. “It was the last thing my father built, and it’s an ostentatious atrocity, but my mother loves it. Won’t listen to reason and move into something smaller. She lives in it alone now that the old man’s gone.” He shook his head in disgust.
“Well, it is grand,” Elloree said to him as a smartly uniformed parking attendant opened the door of the car for her. Immediately, Tom was by her side, taking her arm and guiding her up the wide marble front steps through a majestic portico. A chandelier hung from the stately entry hall’s second-story ceiling like a giant, golden candelabra ablaze with tiny crystal tapers that sent prisms of light dancing across the polished terrazzo floor. Somewhere at the rear of the house, a combo was playing dance music, and Tom guided her though the crowds of guests toward the sound.
Throughout the evening, Elloree’s charming good humor encouraged Tom. For the first time, he thought that she might warm up to him after all. Discussing art with the lisping Carmen Lanz was one of the evening’s highlights for her, and the two were deep in an analysis of Salvador Dali’s work when Mrs. Randall gave her son a beckoning glance from across the room.
Tom worked his way across the floor to his mother. Elegant in a pale beige gown, Clarice Randall strategically had seated herself in front of the fireplace, where its warmth gave a glow to her subtly made-up features. She wore an exquisite pearl and emerald necklace with matching earrings, and on one hand was a ring with an enormous diamond set in Florentine gold and surrounded by a spray of smaller stones. The jewels sparkled as they caught the firelight.
As he approached her from across the room, Tom had to admit his mother was a handsome, aristocratic figure. Although taller than his father, she had always stood erect and proud by his side. Blonde and very pretty in her youth, throughout the years she had preserved her appearance with faddish diets, expensive facial treatments, and arduous exercise programs. Now with piles of snow-white hair done high on her head, she looked elegant and far younger than her years. For Clarice Randall, a woman’s most valuable assets were her looks and her social connections.
Married to Tom’s father after a brief whirlwind courtship, she expected to enjoy the prestige that she assumed his position would award her. But marriage for her had been a few brief years of passion that had faded quickly, leaving her with a hard-hitting business tycoon husband and one son. Isolated from a man driven solely by the insatiable demands of his work, she retreated into the only world she ever really understood. She poured more and more of her energies into becoming more beautiful and desirable for society. She created a lifestyle for herself that was built around grand entertaining, playing bridge, and attending charity clubs, to which she generously devoted her time and money. She provided her only child, Tom, with the right schools and social background to ensure him a successful life and marriage to a nice, moneyed girl from a respected family. Elloree Prince did not fit in with her plans for her son at all. A hint of a frown clouded Clarice Randall’s charming gracious manner when she spoke to her son, not waiting for him to sit down next to her.
“Who is that young lady in blue? Someone I should know?” she questioned abruptly.
“Not really, Mother,” he answered flatly. “She’s nobody you’d know—just the girl I intend to marry, that’s all.