“Sorry,” she called ahead to Lucy. “Lead on.”
Lucy and Alexia had finally found time for their much-postponed hike to the Gay Head Lighthouse. Perilously close to the ever-eroding cliffs, the current redbrick structure had been built in 1844 to replace a wooden tower authorized by President John Quincy Adams, and was a popular tourist attraction on the island. With her encyclopedic knowledge of Martha’s Vineyard’s sandy tracks and back roads, however, Lucy had devised a route where no other sightseers would bother her and Alexia.
Since their tête-à-tête in Lucy’s kitchen two weeks earlier, neither woman had alluded to the “secrets” of Alexia’s past. They’d been walking for over an hour now, and still Alexia had said nothing, leaving Lucy to fill the silence with excited prattle about Michael and Summer’s burgeoning love affair.
“I’m telling you, I hear wedding bells.”
“You always hear bells.” Alexia laughed. “You’re Quasimodo.”
Alexia wanted desperately to talk about Billy Hamlin and her past. But starting the conversation was harder than she’d thought it would be. Back at Pilgrim Farm that first night, buoyed by everybody’s kindness and warm wishes, the subject had all come up naturally. Now, in the cold light of day, she would have to begin again.
How does one do that, after forty years of silence?
In the end, Lucy broke the ice for her.
“So,” she said, when they finally stopped for lunch at a clearing on top of the cliffs. “Do you still want to talk to me about Billy?”
She remembers the name. She’s been thinking about it.
“It’s fine if you don’t. I just thought I’d ask. In case it’s still bothering you.”
Lucy said it so casually, between mouthfuls of an egg and watercress sandwich. Even her choice of words was harmless. Billy Hamlin had been “bothering” Alexia. Not terrorizing. Not haunting. Bothering. Like a fly, or a hole in one’s sock.
Alexia bit her lip nervously. It was now or never.
“What would you say if I told you I’d once done something terrible? Something that I would give anything to take back, but that I can’t change.”
Lucy tried not to betray her own nerves when she answered.
“I’d say welcome to the human race. We all have regrets, Alexia. Especially at our age.”
Regrets. Bothering. Lucy made it all sound so acceptable, so normal. But then Lucy didn’t know the truth. Not yet.
“This is more than a regret. It’s something I’ve buried for almost forty years. Nobody knows about it. Not even Teddy. And if it ever became public, it would mean the end of my political career. Maybe even the end of my marriage.”
Lucy Meyer took a deep, steadying breath.
Teddy De Vere leaned back in his first-class seat and closed his eyes as the 747 shuddered upward over Boston. He worried about leaving Alexia on her own, especially with Roxie still being so difficult. But his business couldn’t completely run itself for an entire summer. Besides, he had other things to deal with in London.
As home secretary, Alexia was a public figure. A certain amount of unwanted attention was inevitable. But she was also Mrs. Edward De Vere, a wife, a mother, and a member of one of the oldest, grandest families in England. Protecting the De Vere family name was Teddy’s job. And he couldn’t protect it if he only knew half the facts.
It was time for a little chat with Sir Edward Manning.
“How was your hike?”
Summer Meyer was in the kitchen at Pilgrim Farm, arranging the latest bouquet of flowers that Michael De Vere had brought her, when her mother walked in. In her yellow sundress and flip-flops, her newly washed hair hanging damp down her back, Summer was a vision of happiness. But Lucy was oblivious, walking straight past her toward the stairs.
“Mom? Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” said Lucy.
She went upstairs to her bedroom and closed the door, sinking down onto the bed. The story Alexia had told her had shaken Lucy deeply. She was grateful to be alone, grateful that Arnie wasn’t here to pester her with questions. She needed to think.
She thought about Teddy De Vere. According to Alexia, Teddy knew nothing of her past. Lucy had no reason to disbelieve this. But still the thought of it shocked her to the core. A thirty-year marriage, a rock-solid marriage to all appearances, but built on a sham! Alexia De Vere wasn’t a real person at all. She was a character, a fake, an impostor created out of willpower and dust by a girl named Toni Gilletti, almost forty years ago.
An American girl.
A “bad” girl.
A girl with no hope, no future, no prospects.
Lucy Meyer would never have become friends with Toni Gilletti. Never in a million years. And yet Alexia had been her closest friend, almost a sister, for half of her adult life.
In the moment, when Alexia had poured out her confession, Lucy had remained calm and practical, reassuring her that deporting Billy Hamlin had been the right thing to do.
“You did what you had to do to protect yourself and your family. That’s it, end of story.”
“But he gave up so much, Lucy, to protect me.”
“That was his decision. He’s responsible for his actions. You’re responsible for yours.”
Outwardly, Lucy hoped, she’d been supportive, unruffled, staunch. But inside, her emotions raged and roiled like a violent, stormy sea.
There was a tentative knock on the door.
“Only me. Are you sure you’re okay?” Summer walked in with a jug of peonies held out like a peace offering. “Can I help?”
Lucy painted her usual smile back on.
“I’m fine, sweetie. I think maybe Alexia and I overdid it on our hike, that’s all. I’m really bushed.”
“Do you want me to run you a bath?”
Lucy kissed her on the cheek. “No, honey. I’m not that old. I can do it. You should be down at the beach with Michael, having fun.”
At the mention of Michael’s name, Summer’s face lit up like the sun.
Lucy thought: Young love. How wonderful it is!
And how dangerous.
It was young love—Billy Hamlin and Toni Gilletti’s—that had caused the tragedy that was to define Alexia De Vere’s life. Alexia herself may have thrived and prospered. But other lives had been ruined. Lucy thought about the little boy who drowned. Nicholas. He was the true victim here, not Billy Hamlin, for whom Alexia seemed to feel unaccountably sorry, and certainly not Alexia herself. But somehow Nicholas’s story had gotten lost, overshadowed by Alexia De Vere’s fame and success. He’d become part of the wallpaper, the backdrop for what happened next.
For what Alexia became. What Alexia achieved. What Alexia now stood to lose, if Billy Hamlin or her other myriad enemies had their way.
Lucy Meyer would remain loyal. There was no question about that. Sisters must always remain loyal. They must stand by their siblings through thick and thin. Lucy Meyer had been raised to believe in family, and she believed in it to this day.
Lucy would keep Alexia’s secret.
But after today’s revelation, nothing would ever be quite the same between them again.
It was a typical late-summer night in London: rainy, gray, and cold. As a result, all the pubs were full.
At the Old Lion on Baker Street, Simon Butler was working his usual shift behind the bar when a disoriented man rolled in.
“Watch that one.” The landlady, Simon’s boss, saw the man too. She immediately recognized the stooped shoulders, staggering gait, blank stare, and unshaven hopelessness of the long-term homeless. “He looks like he’s had a few too many already.”
The man made a beeline for the bar. “Pint, please.” He pushed a handful of dirty change in Simon’s direction.
He’s not meeting anybody. He’s here to drink. To forget.
As Simon pulled the man his beer, he noticed him muttering to himself. Quietly at first, but then in a more agitated way, the classic confrontational, paranoid ramblings of the schizophrenic. Simon’s brother Matty had been schizophrenic. Simon recognized inner hell when he saw it.
“Booze isn’t the answer, you know,” he said gently, handing the man his beer. Close up he looked even worse than he did from a distance, all sallow skin and bloodshot eyes. He smelled of desperation and dirt, a wisp of unhappy smoke floating aimlessly on the wind.
“She was going to marry me.”
The man wasn’t talking to Simon. He was talking to himself, to nobody, to the air.
“She loved me once. We loved each other.”
“I’m sure you did, mate. I’m sure you did.”
Poor bastard. He wasn’t dangerous. Just pathetic.
It was a cruel world.
Brooks’s is one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in London. Standing on the west side of St. James’s Street, it was founded by four dukes and a handful of other aristocrats in the 1760s, and began life as a political salon for Whigs, the liberals of the day.