In Castles in the Air, author Sheila Myers crafts a tale of greed, ambition, and drive for freedom as she continues the fictional account of the Durant family begun in Imaginary Brightness.
When their father dies, William and Ella are finally free of his domineering control to pursue their ambitions. William is now head of the family. Without his father’s ruthlessness and business savvy, he resorts to creative but dubious financial scheming to save what remains of the family fortune and fulfill his visions of grandeur for the Adirondack wilderness as a playground for the rich.
Ella takes off for London to chase her own dream—to return to high society life, become a successful author, and mingle with literary giants. But she struggles to cope as William tightens the purse strings and restricts her freedom, while her feelings for a gallant and enigmatic French aristocrat turn into obsession.
William and Ella head toward an increasingly inevitable collision as they wrangle over their father’s legacy.
“Please excuse us, Anny, but I have urgent family news for Ella, and if you don’t mind I need to whisk her away briefly into the guest room.”
“Don’t tarry; dinner will be served shortly,” she said. Her eyes followed them until Poultney shut the drawing room door behind them.
“The impertinence!” Ella snapped as she finally was able to pull her arm away from Poultney’s.
Poultney ignored her and walked over to the small bar to pour a tumbler of whiskey for himself. He downed it in two swigs and poured another. Then he turned to face Ella.
“Do you even know what you’re doing?”
“What are you talking about?” Ella sputtered.
“That man,” Poultney nodded his head in the direction of the ballroom, “the count. Or so he says.”
“Poultney, I am in no mood for your jealous antics.”
“Hah. Ella, my dear, this is not about me being jealous. It’s about you making a fool of yourself with that scoundrel.”
“He’s a gentleman.”
“And how would you know that?”
Ella puffed herself up and went over to the looking glass that was hanging on the wall to adjust her hair and aigrette.
“He’s only here because that idiot Lord Thompson invited him.” Poultney gestured with the drink in his hand toward the door. “They met yesterday at the racetrack. Thompson was besotted with the Count’s ability to beat the odds and in the process lost a small fortune, which the count graciously covered,” he added sarcastically.
“Well, there you have it then. Only a gentleman would cover the debts of an acquaintance,” Ella said as she fussed with her hairpiece.
“Hah,” Poultney laughed at her as if she were an imbecile. “Only a scoundrel looks for easy prey to lure in, and Thompson, poor drunk, is an easy mark. Now he owes the count not only money, but a favor. How else do you think he ended up here at Mrs. Ritchie’s dinner party where he could scope out ladies dripping in jewels looking for a respite from their tiresome marriages?”
Ella reflexively reached for the pearls at her throat. She rounded on Poultney.
“Speaking of marriages. How is yours to what’s-her-name?”
“Edith, you mean? Convenient. For both of us.” He peered into his glass.
Ella turned back to the mirror and straightened her collar. “She’s not here in London with you then?” She tried to sound as if she didn’t care.
“She’s in confinement again. I left her at our home at Malden-on-Hudson,” he said casually.
“Another child for the happily married couple? And your wife in the States while you travel abroad,” she said, her lips curling. “Hmm, I’d say that is convenient. For you, anyway. But having children does not make one an expert on the state of other people’s marriages, does it?”
“Take a look around you, Ella. Your esteemed friend Mrs. Ritchie is trying to hold on to the reins herself. Her ‘boy-husband’ as he’s called behind his back, has another lover.”
Ella stayed quiet for a moment. Poor Anny, she thought. It was a mistake for her to marry someone seventeen years her junior, especially one so sulky as Richmond. She deserved better.
“Who?” She was ashamed to even ask but couldn’t help herself, realizing the tea parlor chatter she had been exposed to over the past couple of months was not as delicious as this.
“Tennyson’s daughter-in-law, Eleanor.”
“Idle gossip, I’m sure,” Ella scoffed. “Anny told me that Richmond is helping Eleanor sort out her affairs.” Eleanor was recently widowed. From what Anny told her, Lionel Tennyson had been unfaithful while he was alive. It appeared to be an epidemic in London society.
Poultney smirked which annoyed Ella.
“Now, you must excuse me. This ruse of bringing me here under the pretense of a pressing family matter has gone on long enough. Since you have nothing to tell me of William, I shall take my leave and return to the party.” She picked up her skirts to leave.
“Did you know that William is finalizing the sale of the Adirondack Railroad Company any day now and will be quite rich from it?”
Ella stopped in her tracks. “How do you know this? Has William been in contact with you?”
“My dear, you forget I’m a reporter. I don’t need to hear it from your brother. Not that he would tell me anyway.”
He left his spot near the bar and walked over to stand in front of her. She turned around again to face the mirror, pretending to ignore him. As he stepped closer, she smelled the familiar scent of his cologne, mixed with whiskey. She stared at his reflection as he stood behind her, breathing on her neck.
Ella bit her lower lip to stop it from trembling. How humiliating to be confronted by the man who had thrown her off, telling her they were just ‘friends’ and then to have him inform her that her brother was withholding information. It took all of her effort to maintain her composure in front of Poultney. She said, “I’m sure William will be sending word to me soon about these developments.”
“I doubt that,” Poultney said bluntly.
Ella swirled around and glared at him. “How dare you! First you tell me that I’m making a fool of myself in front of friends, and then you tell me I’m a fool for trusting my dear brother.”
Poultney let out a hearty laugh. “Why, Ella. You’re angry. There was a time, if you remember, when I could soothe that passion of yours.” He put his palm on her chest, above her left breast. She could feel her heart beating under its warmth.
“Take your hand off me,” she said. Her voice was thick.
“You’re blushing. I always found that attractive. He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, “I also remember a time when you moaned under my touch.” He started to move his hand lower on her chest toward her breast, but she raised her left arm to slap him. He grabbed her wrist before she could strike. She then raised her right arm and he gripped that wrist as well. He pinned her arms against the mirror behind her head.
“You’ll break the glass, you fool!” she cried.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sheila Myers is an Associate Professor at Cayuga Community College. Her first novel. Ephemeral Summer (2014). is a contemporary coming-of-age story set in the Finger Lakes and intertwines many ecological themes throughout the story.
Myers began writing a trilogy on the family of the robber baron, Dr. Thomas C. Durant, after spending time at Camp Huntington, one of the Great Camps built by his son William, on Raquette Lake NY and now owned by SUNY Cortland.
Her essays about her work on the trilogy have been published in Adirondack Life Magazine, History News Network, and ADK Local Magazine. She has been a contributor to numerous online blogs including the Adirondack Almanack, Books by Women, and the New York History Blog.
Her research has taken her to numerous museums and libraries along the East Coast of the U.S. and the Isle of Wight in England. She has been documenting her research on her website: http://www.wwdurantstory.com/blog. You can also find her on Twitter.