The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

Had Henry been trying to tell her something? Was Michael?

“How’s Summer?” Alexia asked, changing the subject to what she hoped would be a happier topic.

“Fine, I think.”

“What do you mean you think? Don’t you know?”

Michael fiddled uncomfortably with his napkin. “I haven’t seen her for a couple of months, to be honest. She’s in New York. I’m here. It’s not easy.”

“But you speak on the phone? You Skype?”

Michael nodded noncommittally.

Oh dear, thought Alexia. Trouble in paradise? She did hope not.

In the beginning Alexia hadn’t particularly shared Lucy Meyer’s enthusiasm for their respective children to become an item. But Summer had been good for Michael. She’d calmed him down and brought peace and contentment to the point where Alexia had begun to hope that perhaps the kids would get married. Certainly Summer Meyer would make a far more acceptable daughter-in-law than the motley parade of cocktail waitresses, models, and Lithuanian “students” that Michael had been dating before they got together.

“You’re still happy together, though, aren’t you?”

“Mmm-hmm.” The napkin twisted tighter.

“And she’s coming to the party?”

“Uh-huh. She’s flying over with Lucy and Arnie. Can we change the subject?”

“Of course.” Mother and son chatted happily for the rest of the meal, both making fun of Teddy’s utter obsession with the Kingsmere celebrations and with the great De Vere family history. By the time Alexia had to leave, Michael’s earlier odd mood had evaporated. He hugged her with his usual carefree grin.

“So, Paris tomorrow?”

“Paris tomorrow.” Alexia sighed. “I can’t remember the last time I had this much work on.”

“Can’t you?” Michael smiled to himself. His mother had been a rabidly ambitious workaholic since the day he was born, and almost certainly long before that. “Listen, Mum, I meant what I said about Roxie. Don’t give up hope. Deep down she still loves you. I know she does.”

Alexia kissed him on both cheeks. “Sweet boy.”

She swept out of the restaurant and didn’t look back.

The Paris trade meetings were as dull as trade meetings always were, at least during the morning sessions. In France, everybody drank wine with lunch, making the afternoons slightly more bearable for most. Unfortunately, Alexia was teetotaler, a concept so alien to her Parisian hosts that it became quite a talking point.

“But of course you ’ave wine in the evenings, madame?”

“No, no. I don’t drink.”

“Ah, oui, je vois. You are not drinking at work. I understand. This is a British habit, n’est-ce pas?”

“I actually don’t drink alcohol at all.”

“No, I am sorry. I don’t understand.”

“I don’t enjoy it.”

“Don’t enjoy it?”

“No. It’s not to my taste.”

“Ah, d’accord. But you will ’ave a little Château Latour, of course? This is not alcohol, madame. This is a great wine.”

Alexia was as sure as she could be that Kevin Lomax was behind the rumor that she didn’t drink because she was an alcoholic. But the last thing she wanted was to be drawn into a slinging match with Kevin, so she let it slide. Meetings with Lomax were stressful at the best of times, and the alcohol issue didn’t help. It was a relief to be able to escape for a couple of hours. While the trade and industry secretary toured the Renault Headquarters and enjoyed the CEO’s “déjeuner de bienvenue” alone, Alexia had taken herself off for a spot of shopping on the Avenue Montaigne. No doubt the other delegates would be three sheets to the wind by the time she got back to committee rooms. It did irritate her that so little was achieved in afternoon sessions, but she tried to focus on the job at hand: choosing a dress for Roxie. The assistants at Christian Dior were all male, all impeccably dressed in dark suits like nineteenth-century butlers, and had all mastered the art of efficiently unobtrusive service.

“ ’Ow may I help you, madame? You are looking for professional wear, or something for the evening perhaps?”

“Actually I wanted something for my daughter,” Alexia said. “A gift.”

She’d taken Michael’s advice to heart and decided to make more of an effort with Roxanne. Since communication of a personal, emotional nature had never been Alexia’s strong point, she thought she’d start with a peace offering. A present.

The assistant took her arm. “Well, madame, we ’ave some classic silk scarves, of course. Very chic, very beautiful. And our new collection of sac-à-mains is just arrived.”

“I thought perhaps a dress? We’ve a summer party coming up and my daughter will want to look her best. She’s the same size as I am.”

“And as beautiful as madame, I am sure,” the assistant said smoothly.

An old feeling of irritation rose up within Alexia, but she suppressed it. It was not an attractive trait, to feel jealous of one’s own daughter’s youth and beauty, and she disliked herself for it. When all was said and done, she did love Roxanne and always had.

Hands were clapped, fingers clicked, and immediately Alexia found herself surrounded by swathes of rustling fabric, cotton and toile and slub silk and velvet and lace in every conceivable cut and color. It had been a long time since Alexia had shopped for clothes. These days she ordered everything from Net-A-Porter, or got her PA to pick things up for her. She realized she’d forgotten how much fun nonvirtual fashion could be.

She’d also forgotten just how obnoxious Americans could be, especially when on vacation abroad. In the dressing room next to Alexia’s, a very loud, very vulgar Texan woman was shouting at her husband to turn off his iPad and pay her some attention.

“I swear to Gaaawd, Howie, if you don’t turn that thing off right now, I’m gonna spend so much money in here you won’t be able to afford a cab back to the Georges V.” She pronounced it “George Sink,” which made Alexia cringe. Having eradicated her own American accent forty years ago, she recoiled at Americanisms now like a reformed smoker wrinkling her nose at others’ cigarette smoke. Clearly this woman felt the need to ensure that the entire store knew that she and “Howie” were staying at the most expensive hotel in Paris.

“Would you shut the fuck up, Loreen?” her husband replied boorishly. “I’m tryin’ to listen to the news here.”

“There’s news at the hotel. I am tryin’ to shop.”

“I mean real news, not that French communist baloney.”

“Real news” turned out to be Fox, probably Alexia’s least favorite media outlet. But, like the rest of the store, she soon found herself being deafened by the noise from Howie’s iPad, turned up to maximum volume, presumably to make a point and show his strident young wife who wore the pants.

The Dior staff, as ever, were scrupulously polite.

“Sir, I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to turn that off.”

“Ask away, Pierre,” the Texan said rudely. “I’m listening to the news and that’s that. Do you have any idea how much money I’ve spent in your store in the last forty-eight hours?”

“No, sir, I don’t.”

“Yeah, well. It’s more than you make in a year. I pay your fucking wages, okay, Pierre? So back off.”

“Howie! Stop being such an asshole and help me pick a dress.”

As the marital argument wore on, Alexia found herself tuning in to the headlines on autopilot. The U.S. president had delivered a popular speech on the first day of his trip to Israel. American defense spending was up again, for the third quarter in a row. That’s a mistake, Alexia thought. The euro was down against the dollar. A flamboyant Miami businessman had thrown his name into the hat for the Republican presidential nomination next spring. But it was the last item, added by the newscaster almost as an afterthought, that made Alexia De Vere catch her breath.

“The mutilated body of a young woman washed up on the Jersey shore yesterday morning has now been identified as that of Jennifer Hamlin, a twenty-two-year-old secretary from Queens, New York.”

Jennifer Hamlin!

The name rang in Alexia’s ears like a hideously clanging bell. Her mind flashed back to last year. Billy Hamlin standing in Parliament Square, calling her Toni, begging her to acknowledge him. Alexia heard his voice now, as if he were standing right beside her.

“Toni, please! It’s my daughter. My daughter!”

He was frightened, frightened for his daughter, and he needed my help. But I turned him away. And now his daughter’s dead. Murdered, just like poor Billy.

In her guilt, Alexia clutched at straws. Perhaps it was a different Jenny Hamlin? Not Billy’s daughter at all? But she knew in her heart that the coincidence was too great. She remembered the file on Billy Hamlin that Edward Manning had compiled for her. Billy had had one daughter, Jennifer. The family was from Queens. What did Billy want to tell me, about his daughter? What was it that I was too afraid, too self-interested, to listen to? Could I have saved her? Saved both of them?

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80

Categories: Sidney Sheldon