NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The latest from Danielle Steel, Past Perfect is a spellbinding story of two families living a hundred years apart who come together in time in a startling moment, opening the door to rare friendship and major events in early-twentieth-century history.
Sybil and Blake Gregory have established a predictable, well-ordered Manhattan life—she as a cutting-edge design authority and museum consultant, he in high-tech investments—raising their teenagers Andrew and Caroline and six-year-old Charlie. But everything changes when Blake is offered a dream job he can’t resist as CEO of a start-up in San Francisco. He accepts it without consulting his wife and buys a magnificent, irresistibly underpriced historic Pacific Heights mansion as their new home.
The past and present suddenly collide for them in the elegant mansion filled with tender memories and haunting portraits when an earthquake shocks them the night they arrive. The original inhabitants appear for a few brief minutes. In the ensuing days, the Gregorys meet the large and lively family who lived there a century ago: distinguished Bertrand Butterfield and his gracious wife Gwyneth, their sons Josiah and little Magnus, daughters Bettina and Lucy, formidable Scottish matriarch Augusta and her eccentric brother Angus.
All long since dead. All very much alive in spirit—and visible to the Gregorys and no one else. The two families are delighted to share elegant dinners and warm friendship. They have much to teach each other, as the Gregorys watch the past unfold while living their own modern-day lives. Within these enchanted rooms, it is at once 1917 and a century later, where the Gregorys gratefully realize they have been given a perfect gift—beloved friends and the wisdom to shape their own future with grace from a fascinating past.
Past Perfect is Danielle Steel at her bewitching best, a novel for the ages.
Hometown:San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:August 14, 1947
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:Educated in France. Also attended Parsons School of Design, 1963, and New York University, 1963-67
Blake Gregory sat looking out his office window in New York, pondering the offer he had just been made to be the CEO of a new high-tech social media start-up in San Francisco. He’d had other offers before, in Boston and other cities, though none as enticing as this one, and he’d turned them down without hesitation. But this was different, it had several exciting twists. The company’s founders were two young men with golden track records who had made vast fortunes with their earlier ventures. As a result they had plenty of money to invest in their new start-up. Their previous companies had been based on simple concepts, and so was this one, combining the principles of a search engine with social media, and the potential growth rate was astronomical.
Blake was in high-tech venture capital, with an established, extremely respected firm. But the idea they had outlined made sense to him, and even made him want to join their team, although he had done well where he was, and a new company was never certain to succeed. But if it worked, he could see it making billions. There were possible pitfalls involved, but he thought they could be overcome in the developmental stage. The offer had come out of the blue, based on some business contacts he had and his professional reputation as a smart, forward-thinking analyst of new ventures, highly adept at assessing risk and how to get around it to create a successful business. They were offering him twice what he was making at the firm where he worked in New York. His future was secure where he was now, and he had been there for ten years and liked his co-workers. Everything was unknown about the situation at the start-up in San Francisco, including how he’d like the people he’d be working for. He knew they were gutsy, brilliant, and ruthless, and they always made big money. It was so damn tempting, although he wasn’t usually a risk taker. But the money was appealing, and so was the stock he’d own in the company when they went public, which was their goal.
It made him feel young again, thinking about doing something new and different. At forty-six, he had been on a safe, predictable path for a long time. Married, with three kids, he wasn’t one to throw caution to the wind. He couldn’t even imagine what his wife, Sybil, would say if he told her. They were both inveterate New Yorkers, loved the city, and had grown up there, as their kids had. Blake had never considered taking a job in another city, but he was now. If the start-up succeeded, he could make a fortune. It was going to be hard to turn down.
Sybil was thirty-nine years old, and had had a diversified career. She had been an art history major at Columbia, which was where she had met Blake, while he was at business school getting his MBA. She had been passionate about Frank Lloyd Wright, I. M. Pei, Frank Gehry, and all the avant-garde architects of modern times. She had gone back to Columbia to study architecture, after she married Blake and had kids, and then changed direction to pursue interior design, and had become a consultant to high-end furniture design firms, and she had created several pieces herself that had become iconic. She was a regular consultant to both MoMA and the Brooklyn Museum, advising them about their acquisitions of important pieces for their permanent collections, and curating shows for them. Everything she touched had a sleek, streamlined look to it, and in her nonexistent spare time, she was working on a book about the best of twentieth-century interior design, and her publisher was clamoring for it.
Blake was certain her book would be a success. She was a thorough, thoughtful writer, about the subjects she knew best. She wrote frequent articles for important interior design magazines and the New York Times design section, and was considered an expert in her field. Her personal favorite was mid-century modern, and anything designed earlier than 1950 was of less interest to her, but she wrote about all of it. As a result, their two-story Tribeca loft apartment on North Moore, in an old textile warehouse, looked like the modern wing of a great museum. Every important designer was represented with pieces that could instantly be attributed to them by any expert. Sybil was, above all, very talented herself, and had a way of picking decisively what was new and chic. Blake didn’t always understand it, but readily admitted he liked the effect.
Sybil had a respect for other periods and enjoyed exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum, and they both loved the archaic turn-of-the-century elegance of the Frick Collection, but what made Sybil’s heart beat faster, what she was drawn to and created, was anything at the outer, forward edge of design. Their own apartment had a coolness to it, and a spare airy feeling. She had designed some of the furniture herself from a line she had created. Museums around the country asked her to curate exhibits for them. She almost never took on private decorating clients anymore, because she didn’t want to be limited by other people’s ideas and tastes. And the hub of all her creative activities was New York. Blake didn’t think it would be fair to ask her to move to San Francisco for him. Normally he wouldn’t have considered it, but the job he’d been offered was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He wondered if he could do it for a couple of years, but if the business was a success, he’d want to stay longer.
His kids wouldn’t welcome a move either. The offer in San Francisco had come the first week of school. Andrew had just started his senior year of high school, and would be applying to college that fall. Caroline was a junior, and firmly embedded in her life in New York. The prospect of moving at sixteen and seventeen would horrify them both. Only Charlie, their six-year-old, wouldn’t care where they lived, as long as he was with them. He had just started first grade.
Sybil was in Philadelphia for the day, consulting with a museum about a show they wanted her to curate in two years. He didn’t know if he’d tell her about the offer or even whether he should. Why upset her about a job he wasn’t going to take? But they wanted him to go to San Francisco and see them that week to discuss it further, and he was sorely tempted to. They’d been incredibly persistent. It was Monday, and he had already figured out that he could get away on Wednesday afternoon, and had moved some meetings to do it.
He was distracted, thinking about it, when Sybil walked in to their apartment that night, her long blond hair pulled back tightly in a bun, and wearing a very severe but chic black suit. She looked every inch a New Yorker, and always did. She was a beautiful woman, and their daughter had her tall, lean, classic appearance. Both boys resembled Blake more clearly, with dark hair, dark eyes, and all-American athletic bodies. They loved sports and were good athletes.
“How’d it go?” Blake asked, as she smiled at him, put down her bag, and took off her shoes. It was a hot Indian summer day, and she’d left the house at six a.m. to catch the train and be in Philadelphia in time for her meeting. Their housekeeper had picked Charlie up at school, Caroline and Andy took the subway home at different hours. One of the things Sybil liked about her eclectic work life was her flexible schedule, so she could usually pick Charlie up. Charlie had come as a surprise to both of them, but after the initial shock and adjustment, they’d agreed that he was one of the best things that had ever happened to them. He was their easiest, most loving child, and always happy whatever he was doing. Both his older siblings enjoyed spending time with him too.
Two of the children were in their rooms by the time Sybil got home from Philadelphia. Andy and Caroline were doing homework, and Charlie was watching a movie on the flat-screen TV in his parents’ room. The children had had dinner, but Blake had waited for her. He followed her into the kitchen as she put out a salad and some cold chicken the housekeeper had left for them.
“I don’t think I’m going to curate their show,” she said as he poured her a glass of wine. “It’s coming over from Denmark. They really don’t need me to curate it, it looks incomplete to me, and they don’t want me adding to it. It’s been put together by a prestigious museum, so they want to keep it as it is. It’s not for me.” She turned down many of the opportunities she was offered. She was a purist about her work, and the periods and designers that interested her. “Besides, I need time to work on my book. I want to finish it in the next year.” She’d been working on it for two years. It was going to be almost a textbook of the best of modern design. “How was your day?” She looked at him with a smile. They liked meeting up in the evenings to share what they’d each done.
“Fine. I’m going to San Francisco on Wednesday,” he blurted out, realizing that he sounded insane. He looked startled himself, and had intended to introduce the subject more gracefully, but his nervousness about telling her had taken the upper hand.
“A new deal out there?” she asked and sipped her wine. He hesitated for a long moment, not sure what to say. And then he sighed and sat back in his chair. He never kept secrets from her. They were a team, and one that still worked well after eighteen years of marriage. There were few surprises in their life, and they both liked it that way. And they were still in love after almost two decades.
“I got an offer from a terrific start-up in San Francisco today,” he said in a low voice.
“You’re going to turn them down?” She knew the answer to the question, but asked anyway. He always did. He was content where he was, or so she thought.
“This one’s different. They’re putting a lot of money into it, the two guys starting it have an impeccable reputation, and it’s going to work and make everyone involved a fortune.” He seemed certain. She looked at him as he said it, and set her fork down on her plate.
“But it’s in San Francisco.” She might as well have said it was on Mars or Pluto. California was not part of their universe.
“I know, but they’re offering me twice what I’m making now and great stock options. If they win big with it, we’ll be set for life.” They both made a good living. They led a comfortable life, and had everything they wanted, and so did their kids. And neither of them had ever aspired to those leagues. “I’m not saying I’d make billions, but there is some very big money to be made on this deal, Syb. It’s not easy to turn down.”
“We can’t move to San Francisco,” she said simply. “I can’t, you can’t, and we can’t do that to the kids. Andrew is graduating this year.” Blake knew that all too well. He had thought of it all afternoon, with severe pangs of guilt for even considering the offer and not turning it down flat. He felt like the traitor in their midst.
“I’d like to just take a look so I can see what I’m declining,” he said, knowing it was a poor excuse to go out there. And she knew it too.
“What if you don’t want to turn it down?” she asked, looking worried.
“I’ll have to, but I should at least listen to them.” He knew that at forty-six, he wasn’t going to get another offer like this one, and that if he didn’t take it, he’d probably stay where he was for the rest of his career. There was nothing wrong with that, and his current job was respectable, but he wanted to be absolutely certain that declining it was the right thing to do, before he did.
“This sounds ominous,” Sybil said, as she put their dishes in the sink.
“I’m not saying I’ll take it, Syb. I just want to have a look. Maybe I could do it for a couple of years,” he said, trying to find a solution to a problem she didn’t want them to have.
“They won’t let you do that. And we need to let Caro and Andy finish school here for the next two years.” He knew that declining the start-up in San Francisco was probably a sacrifice he would have to make, but it was harder than he’d expected it to be.
“I’ll just be out there Wednesday to Friday, and back on the weekend,” he said quietly, but there was a look in his eye she’d never seen before and didn’t like. He was thinking of himself and not of them.
“Why am I not reassured? You can’t be serious about this, Blake.” Her mouth was set in a thin line and she looked tense.
“It could set us up for the future. I’m never going to make that kind of money here.”
“We don’t need more than what we have,” she said firmly. “We have a great apartment and a good life.” She had never been greedy and was satisfied with what they both made.
“This isn’t just about money. It’s exciting to be part of something new. This could be groundbreaking. I’m sorry, Syb. I just want to check it out. Do you hate me for that?” He loved her and didn’t want to screw up their marriage, but he knew it would gnaw at him forever if he didn’t talk to the people in San Francisco now. He had promised to fly out before asking her.
“I couldn’t hate you . . . except if you move us out of New York,” she said and laughed. She wasn’t angry at him, but she was afraid. “Just promise me you won’t go crazy out there and accept the job before we talk.”
“Of course not.” He put an arm around her and they found Charlie asleep on their bed with the TV on when they walked into their bedroom. Blake carried him to his own room, Sybil changed him into his pajamas, and he never woke up.
They said good night to Caroline and Andy, and after they turned off the lights, Sybil lay in bed, thinking about what Blake had said. She hoped this was just one of those moments when an idea looks enticing for a few minutes and then reality sets in, and you know it’s not for you. She couldn’t see any of them living in San Francisco, and didn’t want to. And even if the job sounded exciting to him now, she was sure they’d all be miserable if they left New York for him. It was the last thing she wanted to do, even for the man she loved. They couldn’t do it to their kids. And she didn’t want a bicoastal marriage, where they flew to see each other on weekends. There was just no way it could work for them. Their life in New York was perfect the way it was. Blake agreed with her, but the opportunity he’d been offered in San Francisco was one of a kind.
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