Excerpt from Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Scarlet Feather

by Maeve Binchy

Scarlet Feather
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2001, 528 pages
    Mar 2002, 560 pages

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Marcella Malone worked in the beauty salon of Hayward's store. She was possibly the most beautiful manicurist that any of the clients had ever seen. Tall and willowy, with a cloud of dark hair, she had that kind of oval face and olive skin that schoolgirls dreamed of having. At the same time, she had a quiet, unthreatening way about her that made older, uglier, fatter people take to her despite her beauty. The clients felt that some of her good looks might rub off on them, and she always seemed interested in whatever they had to say.

They had the radio on in the salon, and people there were talking about the topic. Clients were interested and joined in the argument, nobody really got what they wanted on New Year's Eve. Marcella said nothing. She bent her beautiful face over the nails that she was doing and thought how lucky she was. She had everything she wanted. She had Tom Feather, the most handsome and loving man that any girl could want. And even more, she had been photographed recently at two very good connections. A knitwear promotion and at a charity fashion show where amateurs had modeled clothes at a fund-raiser. This looked like the year it could all happen for her. She had a very good portfolio of pictures now, and Ricky, the photographer who had taken them, was giving a very glitzy party. A lot of media people would be there and she and Tom had been invited. If things worked well she would have an agent and a proper modeling contract, and she would not be working as manicurist in Hayward's by this time next year.

It would have been lovely for Cathy if Tom could have come with her to Oaklands. Moral support and company in that kitchen, which held so many bad memories for her, and also it would have halved the work. But Tom had to go to some do with Marcella, which was fair enough, it was going to help her career. She was so beautiful, Marcella, she just made people stop and look at her. Tall and thin, with a smile that would light up a night. No wonder she wanted to be a model, and it was amazing that she wasn't established as one already. But then Neil had said he would help and also they had hired Walter, Neil's cousin, to be barman. And she had kept it fairly simple, nothing too tricky; she and Tom had slaved on it all morning.

"It's not fair, your doing all this," Cathy said. "She's not going to pay us, you know."

"It's an investment ... We might make a rake of contacts," he said good-naturedly.

"There's nothing in this lot that could make anyone sick, is there?" Cathy begged him.

She had a vision of all Hannah Mitchell's guests going around holding their stomachs and groaning with some terrible food poisoning. He had said she was getting sillier by the hour, and he must be mad himself to have such an unhinged business partner. No one would have lent them money if they realized how the cool-looking Cathy Scarlet was actually a bag of nerves.

"I'll be fine with real people," Cathy reassured him. "It's just Hannah."

"Give yourself plenty of time, go there early, fill the van with swirling music to calm yourself down and ring me tomorrow," he soothed her.

"If I survive. Enjoy tonight."

"Well, it's one of those noisy things at Ricky's studio," he said.

"Happy New Year, and say it to Marcella too."

"This time next year - imagine ...," he said.

"I know, a great success story," Cathy said, looking much brighter than she actually felt.

It had been the way they got by. One being over-cheery and optimistic when the other was in any way down or doubtful. And now the van was packed. Neil wasn't home, he had to go to a consultation. He wasn't like an ordinary lawyer, she thought proudly; he didn't have office hours or large consultancy fees. If someone was in trouble, he was there. It was as simple as that. It was why she loved him.

They had known each other since they were children but had hardly ever met. During all the years that Cathy's mother had worked at Oaklands, Neil had been away at boarding school and then hardly home during his college years. He had moved out to an apartment when he was called to the Bar. It was such a chance that she should have met him again in Greece. If he had gone to one of the other villas, or she had been cooking on another island that month, then they would never have got to know each other and never fallen in love. And wouldn't Hannah Mitchell have been a happier woman tonight? Cathy told herself to put it out of her mind. She was still much too early to go to Oaklands, Hannah would just fuss and whimper over things and get in her way. She would call and see her own parents. That would calm her down.

Reprinted from Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Maeve Binchy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

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