People once marveled at the fact that Liliane Harkness’s mother Margot had consented to marry Edgar J. Harnkess, Jr. After all, Harkness may have been the most eligible bachelor in the city and a financier worthy of the Harkness & Co. name, but he was also notoriously ugly, with a port-wine stain birthmark and a bad case of rosacea to go along with his legendary temper. Margot Harkness has been one of the city’s preeminent beauties at her coming-out, courted by everyone from captains of industry to starry-eyed bellhops, but she had chosen perhaps the unpleasantest man in the pool to become her husband.

But their daughter knew differently. “That isn’t your real daddy,” Margot would whisper sweetly to Liliane during their long walks through city parks, “but don’t tell him, okay?” She saw a parade of suitors, undiminished even after years of marriage, coming and going to her mother’s room. And young Liliane learned the value of absolute discretion in those stolen moments.

For his part, E.J. Harkness Jr. doted on Liliane, and associates remember her visits as the only time they ever saw the man smile. He arranged for only the finest tutors and schooling for his daughter, sent her on tour to European capitals, and generally tolerated her whims and occasional affectations. If Margot had any illusions about how the old banker felt about her, they were shattered when Harkness died of a coronary thrombosis just short of his 70th birthday–leaving his entire estate to Liliane, then aged only 19.

As if to announce her arrival in the select sorority of women wealthy in their own right, Liliane’s first act of business was to have her mother taken away. A state board certified Margot Harkness as “dangerously insane and hysterical” less than a year after her husband’s death, and she was remanded to the upstate House for Invalids and the Mentally Ill by court order. There, she was treated with the newest and trendiest cure-all currently making the rounds: a total frontal lobotomy.

Freed from any and all restraints, gossip expected Liliane to move into a dissolute and spendthrift lifestyle, and her regular appearance at society balls in expensive furs and with an ever-rotating cast of handsome but vapid young men did encourage such an opinion. However, she also took an active role behind the scenes at Harkness & Co., running it through a figurehead president and board of directors. Growth was through the roof, and there was some whispered talk that J.P. Morgan & Co stood to buy–or be bought by!–Harkness.

That is, until Liliane Harkess’s feud with Mercedes Ryann got out of control.

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