Lucy shouldn’t, not if she was going to get into her dress on Saturday. Then again the dessert trolley did look good. And she had had an exhausting afternoon.
“Oh, go on, then.” She winked at her husband. “You only live once.”
Summer lay in Michael’s arms feeling foolish. When the clueless Kingsmere PA, Sarah, had told her Michael had reservations at Bepe in Oxford at eight—a table for two—Summer was convinced he was meeting another woman. On a whim she’d jumped on the first train from Paddington intending to confront him, only to arrive at the restaurant and find Michael alone.
“Where’s your date?” she asked sarcastically.
“In the loo.”
“I see. You won’t mind if I wait, then? I’m dying to meet her.”
Michael had seemed more confused than panicked. When his companion returned from the bathroom, Summer could see why. She found herself being introduced to a perfectly charming Indian gentleman. Ajay Singh was in his early fifties, smelled faintly of turpentine, and was one of Michael and Tommy’s key suppliers.
“I thought I told you I had to work tonight,” Michael said later as the two of them walked back to his flat along the backs. It was a dreamy night in Oxford, warm and cloudless, with a blanket of stars twinkling over the river like fireflies. Undergraduate couples punted past them in the darkness, and in the near distance the bells of Christchurch Cathedral chimed midnight, as they had done every night for the last eight hundred years.
“You did.” Summer took Michael’s hand. “But I really wanted to see you. Aren’t you happy I came?”
“You haven’t come, yet.” Pulling her to him, he kissed her roughly on the mouth. It was a passion she hadn’t felt from him in months, that she’d feared was gone forever. “But you will.”
Michael was as good as his word. In bed later, their lovemaking was intense, wild and wonderful, the way it was last summer when they first got together back on Martha’s Vineyard. As soon as Michael touched her, Summer felt her tiredness lift and her misery of only a few hours ago evaporate like raindrops in the sun.
It was all in my head. There’s nothing wrong. He’s been working too hard and we’ve been living oceans apart. Everything will be fine now that we’re back together.
Stretching out a lazy arm, she stroked Michael’s bare back.
“Are you nervous about Saturday night?”
“Nervous? I’m terrified. Tommy came up with a great expression yesterday. He said he was ‘shitting porcupines.’ I’m about the same.”
Summer laughed, because it was funny, and because it was such a relief to be Summer and Michael again, and not the suspicious strangers they’d become.
“I’ll have to remember that one. Work it into a political piece at the Post: ‘Senator Brownlow “Shitting Porcupines” over Upcoming Iowa Primary.’ Yeah, I like it. I think it’s gonna catch on. How about your parents. Are they calm?”
“Mother is. Mother’s always calm.”
Was it Summer’s imagination, or had a slight edge crept into Michael’s voice?
“In Dad’s mind, this party is all about family honor. Three hundred years of the De Veres at Kingsmere. That’s all he cares about. I don’t think it’s registered how much more than that it’s become, how much it means for Mummy’s career. I mean, it’s Mummy they’re all coming to see. No one gives a rat’s arse about the De Vere family tree.”
Without thinking, Summer blurted out, “I thought you were with someone else tonight. Another woman. I thought I’d catch you out.”
“Oh.” Michael frowned. “Is that why you came?”
Summer nodded, biting her lower lip and willing the tears not to flow. “I’m sorry. It’s just things have been so . . . so off between us lately. I’ve felt so distant from you.”
Michael put a finger to her lips. “Shhh. Don’t let’s talk about it. I’m sorry too. I love you.”
They kissed again. Summer felt overwhelmed with relief, as if she’d been holding her breath for the last six months and had finally been allowed to exhale. When at last they pulled apart she said, “I don’t want us to have secrets from each other. I want us to know each other completely.”
“I’m not sure that’s possible.”
Summer raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think honesty is possible?”
“To a point it is,” said Michael. “But everyone has secrets, don’t they?”
“Do they?” Summer was starting to feel uneasy.
“I think so. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Secrets can be a burden. I mean, once you know something, that’s it. You can never un-know it. You can never take that knowledge back. The innocence you had before, it’s gone. You shouldn’t inflict that on someone unless you really have to. Especially not someone you love.”
Summer sat up. “Okay, now you’re scaring me. Is there something you want to tell me, Michael?”
“No! That’s the whole point. There isn’t.”
“All right, is there something you don’t want to tell me? Something specific?”
“I should never have got into this, should I?” He tried to laugh it off, but the ease of a few moments ago had gone. “Look, really, you’re getting worked up over nothing. This isn’t about us. Okay?”
“Okay,” Summer said warily.
“I’m talking purely hypothetically. Let’s say you knew a secret. Something bad that someone has done.”
“I mean something really bad. And let’s say you loved the person who’s done it.”
“But we’re not talking about us, right?”
“We’re not talking about us. Would you tell the person that you knew? Would you confront them?”
Summer thought about it. “It depends on the person. And the secret.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Well, yours wasn’t a question! It was a riddle. Okay, I’ll give you an answer. The answer is, you follow your conscience. You do what feels right in your gut.”
Michael turned and looked at her. The shadows under her eyes were darker and heavier than usual. She looked tired—is that because of me?—but still so beautiful. He’d forgotten just how beautiful she was.
I’m an idiot. A total idiot.
“Do you know what feels right in my gut?” he asked.
Grinning, he rolled on top of her. “This.”
Michael was glad Summer had come to Oxford. He was even gladder she’d decided to surprise him at Bepe’s, and not at his flat a few hours earlier. What a horror story that would have been. Guilt gripped him for a moment, but he batted it aside. What was done was done. Once this crazy party was over, he would focus on Summer more, make up for all his bad behavior.
As for his secrets, those would go with him to the grave.
At last the day of the Kingsmere summer party arrived. Alexia De Vere awoke before dawn after another night of broken sleep. Creeping into the bathroom so as not to wake Teddy, she peered at her reflection in the mirror. A hag stared back at her. Wisps of gray were fighting their way through the blond, her skin looked dry and flaky and old, like stale pastry, and lines of exhaustion and stress ran in deep grooves, fanning out from her eyes and lips.
This wouldn’t do.
Switching on her BlackBerry, Alexia fired off an e-mail to her personal assistant, Margaret, arranging for a hairdresser and makeup artist to come to the house in the early afternoon and fix the damage. Sir Edward Manning ran Alexia’s political life, but when it came to personal matters, Margaret French was her right-hand woman. Having sent the e-mail, Alexia pulled her cashmere dressing gown tightly around her and went downstairs to her office.
“Good morning, madam. You’re up early. Can I bring you some coffee?”
Thank God for Bailey. Good butlers were a dying breed, but Kingsmere’s was the absolute best.
“Oh, please, Bailey, that would be lovely. As strong as you can make it, with warm milk and sweetener on the side. And some rye toast.”
“Slightly burned, ma’am. I should hope I know how you like it by now.”
What a relief to be home, in a place where little rituals mattered and the fundamentals of life never changed. Ever since Paris, and the awful afternoon in Dior when she’d heard about Jennifer Hamlin’s murder, Alexia felt as if the world—her world—had gone mad. By day her schedule at the Home Office was as crammed as ever. Education Committee meetings here, hospital openings there, white papers to be digested on everything from scrapping jury trials for terrorists to the increasingly contentious and unpopular U.S. extradition treaty. But all the time, in the back of her mind, Billy Hamlin’s fate, and that of his daughter, haunted her. When Alexia ate lunch, or went to the bathroom, or slept, or turned on the television, there was Billy’s face like Banquo’s ghost, demanding her attention, demanding justice.