Book 10 in:
Web of Dreams is the prequel and final book in the Casteel series. It opens on Annie and Luke returning to Farthinggale Manor for Troy Tatterton’s funeral. While poking around, Annie finds a diary that belonged to her grandmother, Leigh, and begins to read it. The rest of the book is written in Leigh’s voice (minus the epilogue). When the story begins, Leigh is celebrating her 12th birthday with her mother Jillian and her father Cleave. Her mother spoils her with many gifts, but Leigh’s favorite is a blank book from her father, which is where she writes the story. There is much gift giving in this book, particularly necklaces.
Jillian is supposed to be a children’s book illustrator, although this is something I never completely buy about her. I feel like she is too selfish, flighty, and shallow to have the patience to create any kind of art. Cleave owns a cruise ship company, which Jillian loved at one point because it made her feel wealthy and important, but the bloom is off that rose and she now yearns for a mansion with a maze – hmm, that is awfully specific. Jillian takes Leigh to meet Tony Tatterton, owner of the fancy Tatterton To Company, age 23, who hired Jillian to paint murals in his house based on some of her illustrations. Leigh is impressed by the mansion, which just so happens to have a maze, but is particularly enchanted with Tony’s little brother, Troy (so glad he is as adorable as a kid as he is as an adult). Tony tries to win her over by giving her a necklace with a gold and diamond cruise ship charm. I find this incredibly creepy knowing her father owns these boats.
The next week, Cleave launches a new destination for his cruise line, and Jillian has planned a bon voyage party as she and Leigh are coming along for the maiden voyage. Tony attends the party, and he and Jillian are practically sucking face on the dance floor. While on the cruise, Jillian constantly whines about not feeling well and how she hates being on the ship and that Leigh should not be learning about the ship, something she has always enjoyed as it is something shared with her father. When the boat docks in Jamaica, Jillian ditches her family and flies home. Leigh is heartbroken by her mother’s abandonment, and the dagger is twisted further when, upon arriving back in Boston, her father tells her that after leaving the boat, Jillian flew to Mexico to obtain a divorce.
Leigh arrives home to an empty house and is further traumatized when she finds sample wedding invitations. Once her mother comes home, Jillian confesses that she and Tony are marrying, and begs Leigh to be her BFF and never tell Tony how old she really is as she’s led him to believe she is 28. A Christmas wedding is planned, and Jillian is upset when her mother, Jana, decides to come. Leigh overhears a conversation between Jillian and Jana where they discuss how Leigh is not really Cleave’s daughter and that Jillian was knocked up by some lounge singer. Poor Leigh, not much is going well for her.
The wedding is held at Farthy, and at one point, Leigh and Troy explore the maze and cottage, but get lost trying to come home as a snow storm blows in. When they are finally found, both are frozen. Troy is whisked away to a hot bath, but Jillian proceeds to chew out Leigh, wanting to know how Leigh could do this to her on such a precious day. Because Leigh camped out in the snowy maze on purpose. Tony finally takes Leigh to a hot bath and helps her get undressed. Cue creepy music.
Tony and Jillian take off on their honeymoon, leaving Leigh and Troy to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve on their own. Many gifts are left for the children, and Leigh receives a locket from her dad. Troy, who has always been a sickly child, becomes ill while Tony and Jillian are still gone and must be rushed off to the hospital. When they arrive back in town, Tony rushes straight to the hospital, but Jillian comes home, needing to catch up on her rest. So Leigh decides to go keep Tony company in the hospital, where he makes several comments about Jillian being a liar-liar-pants-on-fire about liking sports and sex.
Leigh leaves Farthy to attend a boarding school in Boston, although Jillian makes her promise to come home every weekend to keep Tony company because she can’t stand his constant need for sex. Apparently, she thinks asking a developing 12-year-old to distract a 23-year-old from sex is a good idea. Leigh is pretty happy at school. She loves her roommate Jennifer, and manages to win over the popular girls, despite the fact that they initially shun her when they learn her parents are divorced.
At the beginning of her summer break, Tony announces that he plans for his toy company to start creating a line of portrait dolls and the first doll will be based on Leigh. This will require her to spend hours posing for Tony as he draws, paints, and sculpts portraits of her that he can use to create a doll that resembles her. Jillian and Tony agree that, logically, this includes nude posing. Tony sets up a studio in the cottage so they can have privacy. While working, he asks many nosy, creepy questions about her previous sexual experience (none), and once he gets her naked, insists on fondling her entire body for creation purposes. This would be the point where I needed a shower. Leigh is horrified when she notices that everything he is creating has her face but her mother’s body. When she tries to talk to her mom about the whole thing, Jillian is astounded that Leigh isn’t flattered by the attention.
Leigh hopes to talk to her father about what is going on, but he’s distracted by a new wife and a growing cruise business and doesn’t seem to have any time to spare.
Leigh returns to boarding school in the fall. Her roommate, Jennifer, has found a boyfriend over the summer and introduces Leigh to his friend, Joshua. The two of them pair off at the first dance of the year and the foursome spends all their free time together.
Jillian plans an extravagant thirteenth birthday party for Leigh and she invites Joshua, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s boyfriend, along with many other school friends. Troy gives her a locket (necklace #3!) and Tony gives her the portrait doll, whom she names Angel. During the party, Leigh and Joshua sneak out so she can show him the maze and cottage. She is creeped out to discover a new painting of Tony’s in the cottage – one of Leigh’s head/Jillian’s body and Tony naked on the couch together. She covers it up and starts to make out with Joshua, but they are interrupted by an angry Tony. Later, he promises not to tell Jillian, but insists that she needs to learn about her sexuality. So gross.
Jillian decides to go spend a month at a Switzerland spa just as school is ending, and Leigh is left to keep Tony company. He awakens her in the middle of one night, naked, and rapes her. The next morning, he acts as if nothing happened. When she receives a telegram stating that her mother will be back home the next day, Leigh decides to lock herself in Jillian’s room since it is the only room with a lock on the door. To comfort herself, she puts on one of Jillian’s nightgowns and perfume and crawls into bed. Tony shows up with a key, though, and after realizing she is Leigh and not Jillian, accuses her or trying to seduce him by dressing as Jillian and rapes her again.
When Jillian comes home the next day, Leigh tries to tell her what has happened, but Jillian won’t listen to her and claims that Tony said Leigh has been trying to seduce him. Leigh hopes to tell her father, but he ditches her again and she realizes she is pregnant. She tries to tell Jillian, but the hypocrite calls her a slut, so Leigh packs a bag and leaves, hoping to run away to her grandmother’s house in Texas. She gets as far as Atlanta by train, and while there for a layover, she meets Luke Casteel. He takes her to see the circus where he works, but is late getting back to the train station and misses her train.
Luke feels responsible and gets a hotel room for the two of them so she doesn’t have to sleep in his pile of hay at the circus. She confesses her entire story to him, and he confesses that he has fallen in love with her in the 8 hours he’s known her. Luke says he would like to marry Leigh and be the father of her baby, so they are married by the next day surrounded by his circus friends.
Luke and Leigh leave for the Willies where they will be living in a shack with his parents. When they arrive, Leigh is shocked by the poverty his family lives in, but resolves to be strong and put in her share of work. Luke builds her a pretty white outhouse and she tries to encourage him to cut back on his drinking. He refuses to consummate their marriage, wanting to wait until they have their own house. At one point, they attend a hoedown together where Luke dances with a red head named Sarah, whom we all know will be his second wife in the first book. The final part of her diary has Leigh at the end of her term, suffering from stomach pains but happy.
The book ends with Annie flipping through the rest of the blank pages and finding a letter from a PI to Tony, explaining that Leigh died in childbirth. Taren points out some inconsistencies about whether Tony knew or not, how Jillian got the diary, and even the shortness of time between Heaven and Tom’s birth. The idea that Luke cheated of Leigh when they never even consummated their marriage is one of the things I find saddest in the book, after all the raping. I feel like a lot of the series sets up this idea that Leigh was Luke’s one true love and his loss of her is why he’s such a drunk, and an awful father and husband, yet cheating would make this seem false.
I liked the character of Leigh. After the many versions of Leigh’s story that Heaven and Annie hear throughout the series – she was innocent, she was a manipulative slut – I like ending the series on her own version of the story. I had an easier time getting through this series than I did with the Dollanganger series – none of the books were as boring as If There Be Thorns, but it seems like this series has more rape and incest/inappropriate sexual relations than the Dollanganger series does.
One more book in the challenge – Dawn!