Tessa Kent, an exquisite and precocious fourteen, gives birth to an illegitimate daughter. Her parents, devout Catholics, raise the infant, Maggie, as their own child. At sixteen Tessa is discovered by Hollywood; by nineteen she's an international movie star. Maggie lives for her glorious "sister's" infrequent whirlwind visits. Maggie is a captivating, independent eighteen when she accidentally learns the truth. Mortally wounded, she breaks all ties with Tessa and starts to work at the famed Manhattan auction house of Scott & Scott.
Five years later, a life-altering crisis makes Tessa passionately determined to end this estrangement. An auction is the only way she can find to reach her daughter, an auction of the immensely valuable collection of famed jewels that represent all the love lavished on her by her late husband. Tessa promises Scott & Scott the auction on the condition that Maggie and she work closely together on the sale. For Tessa, her entire future now hangs on the hope of an almost impossible reconciliation.
The Jewels of Tessa Kent deals with the fascinating workings of an auction house; it's a revealing look at the inside of Hollywood stardom; but more than anything else, it's a story of feelings and family, of loss, mistakes, joy and redemption.
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Agnes Patricia Riley Horvath, whose daughter, Teresa, would become Tessa Kent, lay in bed at three in the morning. She had been awakened, as usual, by obsessive, angry thoughts about her husband, Sandor, and the way in which he dominated the upbringing of their only child, who now, in August 1967, had reached the age of twelve.
Her parents had opposed her marriage to Sandor Horvath in 1954 and they had been right, Agnes told herself. She was humiliated to the marrow of her bones as she relived her folly, lying next to Sandor in those private hours during which she was unable to keep her mind under control.
If it weren't for Sandor's stern prohibitions, Agnes reflected furiously, Teresa would be well launched on her career, a career about which there wasn't the smallest question-- destiny Agnes knew to be as fixed as the rotation of the earth.
Her daughter had been born a star--yes a star!--by virtue of her extraordinary beauty and the unmistakable dramatic talent she'd exhibited even as a small child. That wasn't a mere mother's pride talking, that was the opinion of everyone who'd ever seen her, Agnes told herself, trembling with frustration. Teresa should be making movies, or at the very least commercials--there was no limit to her future. But no, her husband, unable to move away from his rigid, old-fashioned, European ideas of what was correct and proper for a young girl, had steadily refused to let her take the girl to New York, where she could meet the influential people who would recognize how exceptional her daughter was.
Night after night, Agnes Horvath asked herself what had possessed her, when she was a mere eighteen and far too stupid to make choices, to insist on marrying a man who was essentially foreign to the tight-knit, devout, Irish Catholic world in which she had her enviable place as the youngest of the five sparkling, black-haired, blue-eyed Riley daughters. Why had she set her heart on a refugee from Communist Hungary, a music professor of thirty-five?
Each time Agnes asked herself this question, she couldn't stop herself from treating it as if it were a newly discovered problem that might contain some newly meaningful answer. She'd recapitulate the past as seriously as if she might still uncover some forgotten fact that would suddenly change the present.
Sandor had been an amazingly handsome man, a charming and romantic stranger, who had swept the provincial fool she had been off her feet and out of what small, unsophisticated wits she had possessed. The distinguished man who spoke English with more elegance and precision than any American boy had been irresistible to her barely formed mind and impressionable heart. Savagely Agnes reminded herself that she'd also been suffering from a bad case of seeing Gone with the Wind too many times. Then, and still today, at forty-eight, Sandor strongly resembled Leslie Howard, but she'd been too immature to realize how quickly his fine-boned, intellectual, sensitive beauty would become infuriating when she weighed them against the rules and regulations he imposed on her.
Now she was thirty-one, her marriage was thirteen years old, and Agnes Horvath had known for at least half of it that she'd made the biggest mistake a deeply religious Catholic woman could make. No matter how great her rage against her husband, there could be no thought of divorce. But even if the mere idea of divorce had not been a sin, what training did she have to make a living for herself and Teresa if they were to find themselves on their own? Agnes Riley had been brought up to be a protected wife and a devoted mother, nothing more, and certainly nothing less, like every other woman of her generation.
Sandor earned a good salary as the head of the music department at an exclusive girls school in Stamford, Connecticut, not far from their home on the modest edge of the rich community of Greenwich, where they lived in order to be near their daughter's school. Teresa was a day student at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, an aristocratic institution which they were both intent on her attending.
In all fairness, Agnes reminded herself, turning over in bed, she had to admit that Sandor worked hard to make his way in his new country. Her sisters had married local boys in nearby Bridgeport, where she'd grown up, mates whose status never came close to that of a professor. Some of these good Irish-American boys made considerably more money than Sandor in their blue-collar jobs, but the whole family respected her elegant, learned husband.
Each of Agnes's sisters had produced a sprawling brood of kids, ordinary, unremarkable, almost indistinguishable kids. When she took Teresa to their frequent family gatherings there was no doubt about whose child, among the dozens of cousins, was the center of attention. Teresa's singularity was a subject of family pride rather than any sniping or competition. From the time she was a tiny baby she had so fine and rare a quality that a party would have been incomplete without Teresa to marvel at. Her own sisters, Agnes knew, were in awe of the child she'd brought into their limited world. Her cousins vied for her attention, the older ones whisking her away so they could play with her as if she were some very precious kind of doll.
Teresa was the only one of the cousins who didn't attend a local parochial school. At the Convent, one of the many Sacred Heart schools in the world, she was a "Day Hop," not a boarding student. Many daughters of millionaires were her classmates, a distinction that only added to Teresa's exhalted position in the Riley family.
"Your family will ruin her utterly with all that attention," Sandor had grumbled angrily after the last Riley get-together. "Teresa's becoming spoiled. She used to be such a satisfactory child, docile and obedient, but lately, I warn you, Agnes, I sense that there's something going on inside her that I worry about...some sort of rebellion under the surface, something I can't put my finger on. And I most definitely don't approve of that 'best friend' of hers, that Mimi Peterson. She's not a child I want Teresa associating with, she's not even a Catholic, heaven knows what ideas she's putting--"
"You're imagining things," Agnes had snapped. "Every little girl has a best friend, and the Petersons are lovely, suitable people. They may be Protestants but they have the good sense to realize that the quality of education at Sacred Heart is better than that at an ordinary school. And they truly appreciate Teresa, which is more than her own father seems to do."
"How can you say something so unfair?" he demanded, stung. "I love her too much for my own good, but, Agnes, the world's a difficult place and Teresa's not a princess, whatever you may think. She doesn't need any more fuss made about her than she already gets from you. The way you dote on her is shameless...it comes close to the sin of pride, if you ask me."
"Pride, Agnes, is too high an opinion of oneself."
"Do you imagine I don't know that?" she asked, outraged. She loathed his tone when he started to talk church doctrine, as sanctimonious, stuffy and hair splitting as if he'd lived hundreds of years ago.
"Too high an opinion of one's offspring, can, like pride, lead to the sin of presumption."
"When I need a priest's interpretation of sin, Sandor, I know where to go for it. How dare you preach to me?"
"Agnes, but you realize that in less than a year Teresa will be a teenager? I've seen your sisters go through enough trouble with their own teenaged children, why should we be different? If only..."
"If only we'd had more children? Don't you dare, Sandor! I wanted them as much as you did. Are you saying it was my fault that I had those miscarriages...?"
"Agnes, you can't possibly be starting this nonsense again, please, I beg you. I was going to say that if only it were ten years ago life would be simpler, if only there were standards...if only people stayed the same! In my country teenagers behaved like the school children they are. Please stop talking about fault. The Blessed Virgin didn't mean it to be, and we must accept that."
But he did blame her, Agnes Horvath brooded angrily, he blamed her in his heart of hearts, but never as much as she blamed herself, no matter how ridiculous and futile and morally wrong she knew it was to use the word "blame" about a situation that was in the hands of God alone.
But at least she had Teresa, and wasn't one Teresa worth a houseful of ordinary children?