“Next stop, London Victoria. The train will terminate here.”
Would Summer and Michael’s relationship terminate at the Kingsmere summer party? Or before?
She couldn’t bear to think about it.
Michael De Vere was in a foul mood.
“I don’t care, Ajay, okay? The frame was supposed to be here yesterday.” Shouting into a walkie-talkie, he paced the grounds of his family’s estate like a hungry tiger looking for lunch. “I’m sitting here with a hundred grand’s worth of flowers, enough to fit out a Royal Navy fleet, and a melting ice sculpture delivered two days early, and I have no motherfucking marquee. I’m not paying you a penny unless your guys are here within the hour.”
Kingsmere’s grounds looked glorious in June, a riot of apple blossoms and roses and scented buddleia bursting with life and color. At six o’clock, the house was bathed in a honey glow of late-afternoon light, as warm and inviting as it was architecturally magnificent. Teddy had bustled outside earlier, a proud Mr. Toad observing the party preparations at Toad Hall without actually understanding a bit of what was going on. What Teddy saw were gratifying numbers of lithe young people scurrying hither and thither with silverware, china, balloons, and the like. He’d been apprehensive about allowing Michael and Tommy to organize such a prestigious event, and one on which so much De Vere family honor rested. But the boys had been nothing if not diligent, showing up before dawn this morning to check on the delivery of the fancy Porta Potties and generally running what appeared to be a tight ship.
Michael smiled at his father and gave a confident wave. Little did Teddy know it was the wave of the proverbial drowning man. With less than seventy-two hours to go until his mother’s A-list guests started arriving, Michael De Vere was standing in a garden full of workmen, food, and props, with no freaking tent. Meanwhile Alexia, who’d returned from her trip to Paris looking as white as a sheet, had gone completely AWOL, holing up in London and not returning Michael’s calls. Roxie was being more than usually needy as the prospect of an evening in the public eye drew nearer. And to top it all, Summer had landed in England today, and naturally expected to spend some quality time with him.
Michael thought, I’m being cowardly. I should be straight with her, not just keep putting her off with no explanation. But there was only so much stress he could take. It was an odd feeling, longing to see someone and dreading it at the same time. Work was a welcome distraction.
His cell phone buzzed. Michael read the text and grinned, checking his watch.
“In a hurry, are we?” Tommy Lyon, Michael’s partner and best friend, said archly. “I hope you’re not thinking of sloping off.”
“Give me a break. I spent half the night here last night,” Michael said reasonably.
“Working on the pagoda? Yes, I saw that. You seem to have spent the moonlit hours digging a big hole and filling it with concrete. Looks fabulous, by the way.”
The “pagoda” Tommy was referring to was supposed to have been the centerpiece of Kingsmere’s three-hundred-year celebration. Teddy De Vere had ordered the construction of a Greek Revival pillared folly out near the lake, but the project had been beset by one problem after another, from poor drainage to sinking foundations. In the end, Michael had taken over. This late in the day he’d been forced to implement a policy of damage control, pouring concrete over the half-finished foundations. With luck, the concrete should be dry by tomorrow. Then Michael and Tommy’s landscape guys would cover it with huge potted olive trees, string up a few fairy lights, and voilà, an impromptu Florentine garden.
“I won’t be long,” Michael assured Tommy. “Forty minutes. An hour, tops.”
“Is that all you give them these days?” Tommy teased. “Poor girl. Whoever she is, she has my sympathy.”
Michael made a face.
“Just cover for me, would you?”
“All right. And if your girlfriend shows up, wondering where you’ve got to?”
“She won’t. She’s in London. Shopping.”
Tommy Lyon watched his friend hop onto his new Ducati motorcycle and speed off down the drive. One of these days, Michael’s wicked ways were going to catch up with him.
Tommy Lyon didn’t know how he did it.
Arnie Meyer had booked a table for three at Scalini. The spaghetti alle vongole was the best in London, you could order a bottle of Sangiovese and get a second for free, and it was close enough to Harrods for Lucy to roll out of Marc Jacobs evening wear without bothering to go back to the hotel in between. Knowing Summer would be tired and hungry after her flight, Arnie made the reservation early: seven-thirty.
What with all Lucy’s shopping and excursion plans, Arnie Meyer felt as if he’d barely spent five minutes with his wife since they got to London. He was looking forward to tonight’s dinner. Summer’s presence would be an added bonus.
“Your usual table, sir?”
“Yes, please, Giacomo.”
Arnie smiled. He hadn’t been to Scalini for over four years, but these people made an effort with the service. “And a gin and tonic while I wait for the ladies.”
“Of course, Mr. Meyer.”
Arnie Meyer loved England. He was glad he’d made this trip, glad Teddy De Vere had badgered him into coming. Once his two favorite girls arrived, the evening would be just about perfect.
Summer woke as the train rattled to a halt. Has an hour gone by already? Her chestnut hair was greasy and matted and stuck to her cheek, and there was a deeply unattractive wet patch on her shoulder from where she’d drooled onto her T-shirt.
She longed to shower and change, crawl between a pair of newly laundered sheets, and sleep for about a year. Instead she was supposed to be at a fancy Italian restaurant in less than fifteen minutes. With her suitcase lost over the Atlantic, she didn’t even have the option to change in the station bathrooms. At this point even a clean T-shirt and a spritz of perfume would have been a luxury.
If only she could ditch this damn dinner. But Summer knew what her father would say if she wimped out now. “Are you a Meyer or a mouse?” Thinking of Arnie’s silly expressions, imagining his voice in her head, she started to laugh, then cry.
I really do have to get a grip.
Lucy Meyer arrived at Scalini’s breathless, weighed down with bag after bag of expensive clothes.
“Sorry I’m late.” She kissed Arnie on the cheek.
“I know, honey. I’m afraid I got a little carried away.” She smiled sheepishly.
Arnie bit back his irritation. He didn’t know how Teddy De Vere did it, constantly waiting around for his wife, playing second fiddle. The man must be a saint. Then again, at least Alexia had better excuses for her lateness than an extended shopping spree in Harrods.
“Where’s Summer?” Lucy asked, apparently oblivious to her husband’s bad mood.
“You tell me. I guess she inherited her mother’s sense of punctuality.”
“I’m sure she’ll be here in a minute. Why don’t we order some appetizers while we wait. All that shopping’s gone and worn me out.”
Yup. A saint.
Definitely a saint.
Summer was late.
The PA who’d given her directions to the restaurant was either confused, or deliberately messing with her because in no sense was the restaurant “a straight shot” left from the railway station. Nor had any of the people Summer stopped on the street heard of it, despite the PA’s insistence that it was “a landmark. Really famous.”
At last, at almost nine o’clock, she found herself standing outside. The place looked cozy rather than fancy, entirely lit by candles and with an inviting smell of garlic and truffle oil floating out to the street through the open windows. Inside, a low hum of laughter and conversation added to the warm, relaxed atmosphere.
If only I felt warm, or relaxed. But I’m here now. It has to be done.
Painting on a smile and holding her head high, Summer walked in. She saw the table immediately, walked over, and sat down.
“Summer! Oh my God, w-what are you doing here?”
The blood drained from Michael De Vere’s face like water out of a bath.
“I think we need to talk, Michael. Don’t you?”
Arnie Meyer hung up.
“Well, at least she’s safe. She’s in Oxford with Michael.”
Lucy’s eyes widened. “Oxford? That’s kind of last minute, isn’t it? I wonder why she didn’t call to let us know.”
“Because she’s twenty-three and about as considerate of the needs of others as a particularly vacuous fruit fly?”
Lucy laughed. “I guess that must be it. Did she say . . . I mean, do you think things are okay between them?”
Arnie rolled his eyes. “Who the heck knows? She said they were ‘talking things through,’ whatever that means. You want some tiramisu?”