Alexia handed the dresses back to the assistant and left the store in a daze.
Outside on the Avenue Montaigne, she made a phone call.
“Billy Hamlin’s daughter’s been murdered.”
On the other end of the line, Sir Edward Manning betrayed no emotion. “I see.” He’d been exactly the same after Billy Hamlin was found dead last year, a case that the police had closed without identifying a single suspect. Cool. Calm. Unruffled. It was what Alexia expected of him, what she wanted, in a way. And yet, unreasonably, it still upset her.
“Is there anything you’d like me to do, Home Secretary?”
“Yes. Get me all the information on the case. All of it. Talk to the U.S. police, to the State Department, to the FBI. I don’t care how you get it and I don’t care who knows. I want a report on Jennifer Hamlin’s murder on my desk by the time I get back to London.”
“And if people ask why the British Home Office is so interested in an obscure American murder inquiry?”
“Tell them to mind their own damn business.”
Alexia hung up, shaking. Suddenly the trade talks and the stupid Kingsmere summer party didn’t matter at all anymore. All she could think about was Billy Hamlin and his poor daughter. Just as it had last summer, Alexia’s past had emerged to reclaim her. But this time she couldn’t resist it. She couldn’t stick her head in the sand and simply run away. People were dying. Because of me?
Alexia De Vere caught the Eurostar back to London that night, with a deep sense of foreboding on her heart.
Roxanne De Vere never did get her peace offering.
Lucy Meyer sat down on the end of the bed and began carefully unpacking her suitcase.
“Why are you doing that?” Arnie asked her. “I’ll get the front desk to send up a maid.”
“And have some barely trained Eastern European slip of a girl put grubby finger marks all over my vintage Alaiia? No thank you,” huffed Lucy. “I’ll do it myself.”
Arnie laughed. It amused him that even here, at London’s über-luxurious Dorchester Hotel, where he’d booked them into one of the two royal suites (a genuine royal was apparently in the other), his wife was too distrustful of foreigners to let the staff help her unpack. Arnie had been married to Lucy for a long time, and had learned to find her idiosyncrasies endearing rather than annoying. At the same time, as an international financier who spent half his life in other cultures, he found it baffling that his wife could be so resolutely narrow-minded about all things European. As far as Lucy Meyer was concerned, if a thing wasn’t done exactly as it was done in America, then it was done wrong.
The Meyers had flown in for the De Veres’ summer party at Kingsmere next weekend. All the Pilgrim Farm neighbors knew that Teddy and Alexia were skipping their annual trip to the Vineyard this year because of some big bash of Teddy’s back in England. But it wasn’t until they landed in London that Lucy and Arnie realized exactly how high profile next weekend’s event was going to be. The British prime minister and his wife, Charlotte, were flying back from their holiday in Sicily in order to attend. Every English newspaper was running paparazzi shots of the various international celebrities congregating in London like exotic pigeons, all at the behest of Britain’s glamorous home secretary. Even more exciting, quite a number of said celebrities were spending the nights before the party at the Dorchester, getting over their jet lag and generally being seen. Lucy Meyer had already spotted Prince Albert of Monaco at the bar downstairs, and the Spanish prime minister and his wife had checked in immediately before her and Arnie. Literally next to us at the front desk! as Lucy had written excitedly on her Facebook page.
“I hope Summer’s gone formal enough with her dress,” Lucy fretted as she hung up her own floor-length silver gown. “Do you remember last Christmas, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, when she went knee length?” She gave a small, involuntary shudder at the memory.
“Summer always looks wonderful,” Arnie Meyer said loyally. “Besides, Michael’s organized this thing, hasn’t he? I’m sure he’ll have filled her in on the dress code.”
“I hope so.” Lucy sounded worried. “Even so, I think I might pop over to Harrods before she gets here and pick up a couple of backups for her, just in case.”
“Only a couple?” Arnie teased. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to buy up the whole designer-wear floor, honey? You don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
“You may laugh.” Lucy scooped up her quilted Chanel purse from the table by the door. “But it’s very important for a woman to look the part at these things.”
“I know that, sweetie.”
“After all, Summer’s attending as a potential daughter-in-law. Let’s not forget that.”
Arnie Meyer rolled his eyes.
Forget it? With Lucy’s wedding fever as strong as ever, there was no chance of that.
Summer Meyer waited by carousel number eight for her bag to arrive.
Finally she went to the help desk.
“Are you sure everything’s been taken off the plane?”
“I’m afraid so, miss. Do you have your baggage tag handy? It should be on the back of your ticket.”
Summer scrabbled around in her purse. As usual it was a total mess, full of makeup and pens and half-eaten candy bars and scraps of paper with ideas for feature articles scrawled across them. But no boarding pass.
“I must have left it on the plane.”
The man at the desk was sympathetic, taking down the description Summer gave him of her untagged suitcase (“black” and “large”) without so much as a smirk. But they both knew it would be a miracle if she saw the bag again. Exhausted and defeated, she caught the first Heathrow Express train to London, sinking down into the window seat, close to tears.
What the hell’s wrong with me? I’ve really got to pull myself together.
An impartial observer could have answered her first question at a glance. The dark shadows under her eyes and sickly pallor of her skin showed just how little Summer had slept in the last month. Her journalism program at NYU was intense and required a lot of late-night cramming and long hours in the classroom or chained to her intern’s desk at the Post. But the true reason for her sleep deprivation lay closer to home.
Michael was acting strange. He had been for months. When it started, shortly after Christmas, Summer had put it down to the pressure of work. Kingsmere Events was still a new business, and Michael and Tommy both worked like galley slaves to get it turning a profit. Often that meant grueling foreign travel, with a party in Cape Town one night and another in London or Paris or New York the next. Understaffed and running on adrenaline and espresso, it was no wonder Michael had little time left for romance.
On top of all that, there was the long-distance thing. Summer had her own commitments in New York, her own dreams and ambitions. She couldn’t keep flying to England to play the little wife to Michael De Vere. And yet Michael’s hot-and-cold behavior was more than that. The awkward phone calls, the canceled trips, the uncharacteristic fits of temper when they were together, followed by wallowing bouts of guilt. Call it woman’s intuition, or a journalist’s nose for the truth. But Summer Meyer knew there was something going on, something Michael wasn’t telling her. And it didn’t take Einstein to figure out what that something might be.
Michael De Vere had always been a womanizer. Even as a teenage boy, he’d had a whole raft of girlfriends on permanent rotation. Summer knew that about him. She’d gone into this thing with her eyes wide open. But like a fool, she’d thought he could change. Worse, I thought I could change him. Talk about a cliché.
Yesterday, right before she left for the airport, he had telephoned.
“I’ve been thinking. Why don’t you stay with your folks at the Dorchester for the first couple of nights. I’m going to be snowed down here with last-minute preparations. You’d have much more fun flexing Arnie’s AmEx on Bond Street than hanging around my flat in Oxford while I work.”
Summer had agreed—what else could she do without making herself look desperate?—but inside, her heart sank. She and Michael hadn’t seen each other for months. But instead of counting the hours until they reunited, he was putting her off.
If he’s changed his mind about me, why doesn’t he just break up with me? Why drag out the torture?
She hated Michael for this, but she hated herself more for not having the guts to call him on it. Summer didn’t know when, or why, or how it had happened. But she had fallen so deeply in love with Michael De Vere, she was as helpless as a kitten blown into a lake, splashing and mewling to no avail as the waters rose around her.