Charlotte Whitman, the prime minister’s wife, had said as much to him last night in bed. “She’s making you look bad, Henry. You need to get rid of her.”
“I know, but what can I do? I can’t tell the woman how to grieve for her own son.”
“Grieve?” Charlotte let out a mirthless laugh. “If that’s grief, I’m a monkey’s uncle. You’re the prime minister, darling. Reshuffle.”
If only it were that easy! If only Alexia De Vere didn’t have him over the proverbial barrel! Although neither of them ever spoke of it, the elephant in the room was alive and well, and protecting Alexia, even now.
Alexia looked at Henry Whitman and thought, He’s hiding something. The vague sense of unease she’d had before Michael’s accident had now grown into something closer to full-blown paranoia. Where did Henry Whitman fit into it all? He’d pulled out of the Kingsmere party at the last minute, mysteriously; hours later, Michael was in a coma. There was no earthly reason to connect those two events, and yet Alexia found herself searching for meaning, sinister meaning, in everything. Everywhere she turned, she sensed enemies lurking. Enemies from her past and enemies from her present. Enemies at home and enemies at work. Her career was collapsing around her ears. Michael was fighting for life. Billy Hamlin and his daughter were dead. Her own daughter hated her. It felt as if some evil, unseen hand were demolishing her life brick by brick, destroying everything she’d worked for, everything she’d become. Had it not been for Teddy’s unflinching support—Teddy’s and Lucy Meyer’s . . . Lucy had been a rock through this entire nightmare—Alexia would honestly have feared for her sanity.
Back at her parliamentary office, she confided in Sir Edward Manning.
“They’re all out to get me, Edward. All of them. Henry’s just waiting for his chance to strike, I can tell.”
“I doubt that’s the case, Home Secretary,” Sir Edward said smoothly.
“It is, believe me. You’re the only one I trust, Edward. I need your help now more than ever.”
“And I’m delighted to give it, Home Secretary. Quite delighted. Try not to worry. We shall weather the storm together.”
Lucy Meyer was in Oxford, having coffee with Summer. It had been two weeks since Michael’s accident, and Lucy and Arnie were preparing to head back to the States. Lucy was eager for Summer to join them—“you can’t stay here forever, darling”—but so far at least, Summer was insistent that she couldn’t leave Michael’s bedside. Unlike some people she could mention.
“Do you realize Alexia hasn’t visited him once—not once—since the day after it happened? She just disappeared.”
Lucy sipped her coffee. “I’m sure she has her reasons.”
“She does. Selfishness,” Summer said furiously. “It’s like you have a total blind spot with that woman. Why do you always let her off the hook?”
“What hook?” said Lucy. Much to Summer’s chagrin, Lucy had had lunch with Alexia in London yesterday and tried to offer a shoulder to cry on. “Honestly, sweetheart, I know you want someone to blame. But what happened to Michael was not his mother’s fault. It was an accident.”
“What do you mean, maybe? It was an accident!”
“Michael was a good driver,” said Summer. “An experienced driver. It was an empty road in broad daylight. Why would he suddenly career out of control?”
“Because he was going too fast,” Lucy said reasonably.
“Yes, but why?”
“Young men on powerful motorbikes do sometimes drive too fast, honey. They don’t need a reason.”
“Sure, but not that fast. He must have been distracted. He was acting so strange the night before it happened. He kept talking about a secret and asking me weird questions. Like if I knew a secret about someone I loved, would I tell?”
Lucy put her coffee cup down. “What sort of secret?”
“That’s just it. I have no idea. He was so cryptic about it. But it was obviously something bad. I got a strong sense it was about Alexia.”
Lucy twisted the ring on her right hand thoughtfully. It was a family ring, a gift her father had given her when she was young. She’d always used it like a worry bead, to calm her nerves and help her think. Lucy had encouraged Summer’s romance with Michael De Vere. But now that tragedy had struck, she just wanted her daughter home, back in the States and far away from all this mess. Lucy already knew more about the De Vere family’s secrets than she wanted to. Summer, at least, should be spared such knowledge.
Summer finished her double espresso. “I have to find out what Michael meant. What was distracting him when he . . .”
She realized guiltily that she was about to say died. I mustn’t give up on him. Not when everybody else already has. Where there’s life there’s hope.
“When he had his accident.”
Lucy said, “Has it occurred to you that maybe he didn’t want you to know? This secret, whatever it was. He had a chance to tell you, and he didn’t. Maybe Michael wants you to let it be. To move on with your own life.”
“I am moving on with my life,” Summer said defiantly. “Being here for Michael. Supporting his recovery. That is my life.”
“Summer, sweetheart . . .”
“Hadn’t you better go, Mom? You don’t want to miss your flight.”
Lucy Meyer looked at her watch. She did have to go. As much as she wanted Summer to come with her, she knew couldn’t live her daughter’s life for her.
“All right. I’ll go. But we need to talk more about this.”
“Sure,” Summer said dismissively.
“Your father already called the dean’s office at NYU. He persuaded them to grant you a compassionate study leave, but at some point they’re going to want to know when you’re coming back.”
“Of course. I’ll let you know. Bye, Mom.”
Summer watched her mother leave.
I’m never coming back. New York and college and my internship at the Post. They’re all part of another life. Meaningless and puerile. None of it matters without Michael.
Summer took the long way back to Michael’s flat, through the maze of alleyways that ran behind Exeter and Lincoln colleges down toward Magdalen and the river. Her mother’s visit had left her feeling anxious and unhappy, unable to enjoy the warmth of the late-summer sun on her back or the beauty of the spires that towered above her. The streets of Oxford were filled with smiling lovers in shorts and sunglasses, taking pictures of themselves amid the “dreaming spires” or kissing on the ancient bridges. As Summer walked, willow trees bathed their branches languidly in the Cherwell’s gently flowing waters. Children ate ice cream cones and skipped and cooled their toes in the water, as a family of swans glided regally by.
Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s living their lives as if nothing has happened. As if the world hasn’t stopped.
Summer looked at strangers with wonder and then with anger, an irrational resentment taking root in her heart. How dare life go on? How dare it? With Michael fighting for breath just a few miles away.
But another voice in her head, her mother’s, was equally insistent.
What happened to Michael was an accident.
It was nobody’s fault.
Just come home.
Was her mother right? Was Summer looking for meaning in what was really a simple act of fate, a motorcycle accident, an everyday cruelty that happened to millions of people all over the world? Maybe. But right now she needed to believe there was a reason Michael had crashed that day. There was something she needed to know, something she was supposed to find out. Whether Michael wanted her to or not. She would look at it like a job, like a story she’d been assigned to investigate.
All her investigative instincts told her to start with Michael’s mother, the steely, ruthless Alexia De Vere.
Back at the apartment, Summer kicked off her shoes and padded into Michael’s study. His computer was still on the desk, set to hibernate, as if he might walk back in at any moment and pick up where he left off. Next to it, messy stacks of paper spilled everywhere—receipts, lists, bills, most of them having to do with the Kingsmere party. More were stuffed into the various drawers, or piled on top of the printer, chair, and sofa that filled the small work space. Clearly, Michael hadn’t been a big believer in filing. Summer wondered idly how on earth he’d managed to run a successful business amid such chaos, and whether Tommy Lyon’s desk looked the same. Or perhaps Tommy was the sensible one, the one who held it all together while Michael shot off ideas and plans and concepts like fireworks from his brilliant, scattered mind?
I must call Tommy.
Sitting down in Michael’s chair, she was surprised to feel her heartbeat spike when she turned on his computer. Was it really only a couple of weeks ago that she’d taken the train up to Oxford, convinced she’d catch Michael cheating on her? He’d reassured her that night, made her believe in him again, believe in the two of them as a couple. But now, alone in his study as she was, doubts began to creep back in. Did Summer really want to go through Michael’s in-box, his photos, his Facebook contacts? What if she couldn’t handle what she found?