Alexia started to cry. What happened to my Teddy, my gentle giant?
“Angus, would you leave us for a moment?” said Teddy. As soon as he and Alexia were alone, he put his arms around her, hugging her tightly. “Why are you crying?”
“Because I don’t know you!” she sobbed despairingly.
“Yes you do,” said Teddy. “Everything I’ve ever done, I’ve done to protect our family. I killed Andrew to protect Roxanne. I’ve killed for you too, you know.”
At first Alexia thought she’d misheard him. “What?”
“Oh, come now,” said Teddy. “You don’t mean to tell me that you never suspected.”
Alexia’s head was spinning. She felt as if she were drunk, or high, two feelings she hadn’t experienced in forty years. “Suspected what, Teddy?”
Teddy looked her in the eye and said:
“That it was me who killed Billy Hamlin.”
The blood drained from Alexia’s face.
“You killed Billy?”
“I had to. I did it for you, darling, don’t you see? He was going to bring you down, to dredge up your past and all the scandal you’ve spent your life trying to hide. I couldn’t let that happen.”
Alexia sank down onto a hard metal chair. Her knees would no longer support her.
“You know about my past?”
“Of course.” Teddy smiled. “I’ve always known.”
“What do you know, exactly?”
“Everything. I know everything. You don’t think that I would marry a woman without knowing who she was? That I would put the De Vere family name at risk, without knowing what I was getting into? I know that you were born Antonia Gilletti.”
“I know that you’re American by birth. That you dabbled in drugs in your youth. That you were involved in a murder trial after the death of a little boy named Handemeyer. That Billy Hamlin was your lover.”
“Stop. Please stop.”
Alexia was shaking. It felt so wrong, hearing Teddy say these things. All these years she’d been terrified about him finding out about her past. Terrified of losing the one good, decent thing in her life. But he knew! He’d known all along. The fear, the deceit, the loneliness. It had all been for nothing.
All these years, I felt guilty for having fooled him. But it was really Teddy who fooled me. He knows me inside out. And I don’t know him at all.
“Don’t look so sad,” said Teddy, reading her thoughts. “I loved you from the first moment I saw you, you know, behind the bar at the Coach and Horses. I’d heard rumors about the beautiful girl temping for Clive Leinster, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Of course, once I saw you, it was clear. You were utterly out of my league.”
“That’s not true,” said Alexia on autopilot.
“Of course it’s true. I knew from the beginning that you weren’t in love with me,” Teddy continued with a sweet, self-deprecating smile. “Why would you be, a boring old duffer like me? Or young duffer, as I suppose I was then. But I also knew I had to have you. Naturally my family disapproved. They hadn’t envisaged a barmaid becoming the next Lady De Vere. But I didn’t care. Nothing would have stopped me marrying you, Alexia. I want to be clear about that.”
Teddy took her hand and kissed it. Alexia tried not to think about that same hand stabbing poor Billy Hamlin in the heart, or pulling the trigger that ended the life of young Andrew Beesley.
“But I am a De Vere,” Teddy went on. “And I take that seriously. I needed to know what I was getting myself, and the family, into. I needed to know more about you. So I did some digging.”
“How?” asked Alexia. All these years she’d been in the public eye, and not once had a single journalist come close to unearthing the truth about her past. How on earth had Teddy managed to learn the truth, and without her hearing a thing about it? Whom had he talked to?
“One has one’s ways,” he said cryptically. “It’s hard to change your identity completely without leaving some form of a paper trail. You told me you’d studied at UCLA, so I started there. It didn’t take me long to discover that you hadn’t always been Alexia Parker. Once I unearthed Toni Gilletti, the rest emerged in dribs and drabs. I found the formal warnings you’d been given for drug offenses and shoplifting in your teens. Nothing so terrible there. Then I stumbled upon Camp Williams, and the Handemeyer murder trial. There were rumors that Billy Hamlin had covered for you about the little boy’s death, that you’d somehow been involved in it.”
“Why didn’t you ask me? Confront me?”
Teddy shrugged. “Because you clearly didn’t want me to know. Besides, I didn’t care about any of that. It all happened long before I met you. What mattered to me was that Hamlin must have loved you very deeply. If the rumors were true, and he took the blame. That’s quite a sacrifice.”
“Yes,” said Alexia. “It is. It was.”
“I assumed that when Billy got out of prison, he might come looking for you. So I decided to keep an eye on him. Nothing sinister, mark you. I simply made sure I knew when he was due for parole, that sort of thing. I didn’t want him spoiling things between us. I didn’t know how you felt about him.”
“Oh, Teddy! Why didn’t you talk to me?”
“For the same reason you didn’t talk to me, I imagine,” Teddy said. “Fear. I was terrified of losing you, Alexia.” Reaching out, he stroked her cheek tenderly. “Anyway, as it turned out I needn’t have worried. Not then, anyway. After he was released, he sniffed around your old haunts for a while, trying to find you. But after a few dead ends, he gave up. Got married, started a business, had a child. He seemed to be happy and I believed, I hoped, that that would be that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. You were appointed home secretary, and everything changed. Barely a week later, Hamlin shows up at Kingsmere like a rotten penny.”
Slowly it dawned on Alexia. “You thought he’d come back to blackmail me.”
“Why else would he have come, after all this time?”
“I don’t know,” Alexia said sadly. “I never gave him a chance to tell me. But I didn’t want him harmed. I didn’t want him dead, for Christ’s sake!”
“Keep your voice down, darling,” said Teddy. “Remember where we are.”
Alexia looked around the holding cell with its stark walls and functional office furniture. In a few minutes someone would come and take Teddy away, lock him up for another murder. It was all too much to take in.
“If Hamlin had stayed away, got on with his own life in New York, everything could have continued just as it had been. But like Andrew Beesley, your friend Mr. Hamlin had an eye for the main chance. It was obvious what he wanted, darling: to extort money and drag the De Vere family name through the mud. I wasn’t about to let that happen. Not after all our hard work.”
“But, Teddy!” Alexia pulled at her hair in desperation. “You don’t know any of that. What if Andrew really did love Roxanne? What if Billy Hamlin wasn’t trying to hurt me at all? Maybe there was something he needed to tell me. Maybe he wanted my help, have you thought of that? He never asked me for money.”
“Only because he never got the chance.”
“He was such a gentle man,” Alexia said sadly. “You didn’t have to kill him.”
Now it was Teddy who became exasperated. “Don’t defend him! Don’t you dare! He never loved you like I do, Alexia. Never! I did it to protect you. I did it out of love. Do you think you’d have had the career you’ve had, the life you’ve had, if it weren’t for my protection? If I hadn’t been there keeping your secrets, covering your tracks? I made you who you are, Alexia. I gave you your life.”
It was true. Alexia had often thought so herself. She owed Teddy so much. She just hadn’t realized that the price for his love had been so high. Two innocent men had paid for it with their lives.
“What about Billy’s daughter, Jenny?”
Teddy’s eyes narrowed. “What about her?”
“I’m assuming you know she’s dead? Murdered, like her father. Drowned, in fact. You seem to know everything else.”
Teddy shook his head. “No. I didn’t know that.”
“So you’re telling me you had nothing to do with what happened to that girl?”
“Of course not. I just told you, this is the first I’ve heard of it.”
He could easily have been lying. But something deep inside told Alexia that Teddy’s ignorance was genuine. She didn’t know whether to feel relieved or disappointed. At this point it would almost be easier to believe that Teddy had murdered Jenny Hamlin. That his warped sense of justice and family pride had been behind all the bad things that had happened.