Daniel used to say it was like a snake shedding its skin.
Althea had been a necessary cover, a role she had needed to play. But it was time to let her go.
Hunter Drexel’s phone call had started the process. Here, at Westchester Meadows, Kate had finished it. The drugs had helped. So had the therapy. And the sleep. But the biggest factor had been Daniel, coming to her in her dreams.
You must forgive yourself, Kate.
Everything you did you did for me. For us.
But you can let go now. Move on.
Darling Daniel! She still missed him so much sometimes, it was hard to breathe.
She could let go of Althea and what Althea had done. But she couldn’t move on. Not yet. Not until she’d seen Hunter Drexel face-to-face. Not until she’d closed the circle.
“Where will you go?” Bill Winter asked. “As long as you’re in New York I’d still like you to see me at least once a week. And you should start going back to Lucy Grey regularly as well. Don’t let things unravel again. It’s easier than you think.”
“I won’t.” Kate hugged him, zipping up her bag. “And I promise to come and see both of you as soon as I get back.”
“Back?” Dr. Winter frowned. “Where are you going?”
Kate smiled. “To Europe. Like I said. There’s someone I need to see there. He’s been waiting a long time.”
SALLY FAIERS HUDDLED UNDER her umbrella and lit another cigarette.
It was raining, and she wasn’t even in bloody England. The bad weather, clearly, was following her. Just like bad luck seemed to follow her. Or perhaps it was bad choices?
She knew she shouldn’t have come here. Standing outside Chimay Castle, a lone tourist in this historic but obscure Belgian town, just a few miles from the French border, she felt the full, humiliating stupidity of her decision.
What if Hunter didn’t show up?
Or what if he did show up, dragged her into a world of trouble—and not just editor trouble, but the deep, real-world, kidnap and torture and murder trouble he seemed to have got himself into lately—and then left her? For another woman? Another story?
Of course, Sally had her own story now. Tired of waiting for Hunter to let her in on his scoop, she’d spent the last couple of months doing her own digging into the murky world of global fracking. It would be the first thing she published on her own, assuming the Times sacked her for this latest extended period AWOL. Ironically, it was the best piece of work she’d produced in years. But Sally knew herself well enough to know that that wasn’t why she was here.
As usual it was not her head that had pulled her back to Hunter Drexel, but her heart.
Her stupid, weak, womanly heart.
I hate myself.
The worst part of it was, Hunter hadn’t even called Sally himself to ask for help. He’d had some girl do it—Hélène—no doubt the latest naive, trusting young floozy he was screwing.
“A friend of yours is very sick,” the girl had told Sally, in broken English.
“Yes. You know who. He won’t go to hospital. He wants you to meet him in Belgium.”
Sally had established that this girl, Hélène, had picked up Hunter on the street in Paris—evidently he’d been shot in Montmartre—and he’d convinced her to get him out of France. Money may have changed hands. In any event, since then the girl had clearly thought better of the whole thing. Something had gone wrong between them. Now Hunter’s wound was infected, and she was panicking.
“He scares me. He says . . . crazy things. I have to go back to Paris but if I leave him alone he will die.”
Stupidly, moronically, Sally had found herself agreeing to a meeting in the grounds of Chimay Castle early on Monday morning. And now, of course, she was here. And Hunter, god damn him, was not.
To pass the time, she started playing the “if” game.
If he doesn’t show up in the next ten minutes, I’m leaving.
If he wants my help, he’ll have to credit me on his story. But I’ll make sure mine runs first.
If he wants to get back together, I’ll shut him down immediately. There is no way we can ever . . .
She heard the little blue car before she saw it, straining up the hill like an asthmatic mule, its engine wheezing and spluttering in the rain. Sally was standing outside the castle walls, a few meters from the empty carpark where her own rental car kept a lonely vigil. The carpark was at the top of a long winding driveway. But instead of continuing its labored journey to the top, the blue car pulled into a lay-by halfway up. Sally watched as a skinny blonde in jeans and a trilby hat hopped out of the driver’s seat, pulled a small duffel bag from the boot, and threw it unceremoniously on the side of the road. Every movement, every gesture, was rushed. Frantic.
That must be Hélène.
Next she yanked open the passenger door. Sally watched in confusion as a man stepped out, slowly and gingerly, onto the road. The girl waited anxiously for him to step away from the vehicle. Then, slamming the door closed behind him, she ran back around to the driver’s side, got in and turned the car around, speeding off into the distance in a thick smog of exhaust fumes and desperation, back towards France.
Skinny and frail, with ragged clothes and white-blond hair, her poor abandoned passenger looked utterly bereft and bewildered, standing next to his suitcase as the rain poured down.
Sally’s first thought was. There’s been a mistake.
The man looked nothing like Hunter.
Before she had time for a second thought, she watched in horror as he sank to his knees and then collapsed completely, facedown and apparently lifeless on the ground.
Shit! Sally looked around her.
There was nobody else there. Just the two of them.
Shit, shit, shit!
Closing her umbrella, she started to run.
TRACY’S PREMIER SUITE AT the Georges V in Paris was like something out of a storybook. More like a Marais apartment than a hotel room, it boasted a luxurious king-size bed draped with the finest silk and linen bedclothes, a deep marble bath, an antique walnut writing desk and salon area hung with refined artwork and spectacular views across the city. At almost six thousand euros a night, it was outrageously expensive. But it wasn’t as if Tracy had anything else to spend her money on. Besides, after the day she’d had today, not only walking through the horrors of Neuilly but having to contend with two of her least favorite people, Milton Buck and Frank Dorrien, she deserved a little luxury. Sleeping at the Georges V was like laying one’s head on a bed of clouds. For once Tracy could hardly wait to drift away.
Throwing her Dior purse, phone and laptop down on the bed, she lit a Diptyque candle, filling the room with the scent of fig flowers, and smiled at the picture of Nicholas she had propped up on the nightstand. He was nine years old in the photograph, standing on the banks of the Colorado River with Blake Carter, holding an enormous salmon and grinning from ear to ear. Tracy adored the picture, because it showed Nick’s cheeky character as well as his love for Blake. And because, when he smiled, he looked exactly like Jeff. That was the Jeff Tracy wanted to remember. The Jeff she had loved so passionately. Before life got complicated and pulled them apart with a current too strong for either of them to resist.
But she mustn’t dwell on the past. Cameron Crewe had helped her with that.
“Don’t shut it out. That only gives it more power. But don’t let it consume you.” That was Cameron’s mantra. It was how he’d survived after his own son died. And it was working for Tracy too. Cameron was the one who’d encouraged her to travel with Nick’s photograph.
“His face is in your head, so why not in a picture frame? He’ll always be with you, Tracy. Let him be.”
Thank God for Cameron, Tracy thought for the millionth time, peeling off her clothes and stepping into the shower. I would officially be a basket case without him.
Remembering Frank Dorrien’s vile insinuations about him at lunch today, she felt the anger surge back up inside her. It also angered her that Frank had referred to Cameron as her “boyfriend,” twice. Firstly because Tracy had no idea how the British General knew anything about her personal life. And secondly because she didn’t consider herself to be in a relationship. Whatever Cameron Crewe was to her—friend, lover, therapist—it was temporary. Once this was all over, once Tracy had found Althea and knew the real truth about Nick’s death, they would part ways. Neither of them had said so in so many words. But it was understood.