Roxie opened her arms, full of love.
“Hello, Mother.” She was beaming. “It’s so good to see you.”
When the full story of Alexia De Vere’s past life and secrets emerged in the British press, it caused the biggest political scandal since the Profumo Affair back in the 1960s. Politics didn’t get dirtier, or more salacious than this. Shoot-outs on an American beach, murder, perjury, a secret identity and a string of corpses as long as your arm. The whole affair was a Fleet Street editor’s wet dream.
Of course, for those actually involved, the reality was both more tragic and more prosaic. Alexia De Vere herself felt lucky. Lucky to be alive—Lucy Meyer’s shot on the beach had merely scratched her shoulder, and the police rescue team had pulled her out of the water and given her mouth-to-mouth before any permanent brain or other damage was done. Minutes later, seconds later, and it could all have been over. Alexia tried not to think about that.
She was lucky in other ways too. Lucky to have had a chance to reconcile fully with Roxie, and with her darling Teddy before he died. (Teddy De Vere suffered a massive heart attack in his prison cell, the same week as Alexia’s extradition hearing in America.) She even felt lucky to be here, in a British jail rather than an American one, atoning at last for the sins of her past. Maybe now, finally, her dues to the gods would be paid. When she finally walked out of Holloway Women’s Prison, she would be a free woman, in more ways than one.
That terrifying day on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard had changed everything for Alexia. Whether it was God who saved her, or fate, or blind luck didn’t matter. What mattered was that she had been saved. She was convinced that she was alive for a reason. And the reason, at last, was clear.
She had to tell the truth. To bear witness.
There could be no more secrets.
From her hospital bed in Boston, Alexia told the police everything. She admitted being negligent in Nicholas Handemeyer’s death, from all those years ago, and allowing Billy Hamlin to go to jail in her stead. Double-jeopardy rules meant it was too late for her to be tried for involuntary manslaughter. In the end she was given a six-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice.
She also told the authorities that Teddy had been responsible for Billy Hamlin’s murder. She’d kept his secret thus far, but the whole truth had to come out now. Teddy was serving a life sentence anyway, and Alexia owed poor Billy that much at least.
Teddy had been good about it, writing Alexia a typically kind and amusing letter from his own jail cell. The worst part about it is that I shall have to go back to court and face all those ghastly reporters again. I’d happily sign up for a year in solitary if it meant never setting eyes on another white-sock-wearing pleb from the Sun ever again.
He still had no remorse about what he’d done. It was as if there were a gene missing. He seemed incapable of guilt. But by the same token, he shared none of Lucy Meyer’s hatred for his victims, none of Lucy’s blind, psychotic thirst for violence and for vengeance. In Teddy’s mind, he had merely done his duty—protected his family. The fact that two innocent men lost their lives as a result was dismissed as collateral damage, an unfortunate side effect that couldn’t be helped. Teddy died in his sleep a week before he was due in court for Billy Hamlin’s murder. Perhaps it was more than he deserved, after all he’d done. But Alexia took comfort in the fact that he had died peacefully. She loved him to the last.
As for herself, she’d already applied for permission to serve her sentence in England. Thanks to her full and frank confession, the fact that she had two “disabled” children in the UK, and her political and personal links with the country, the U.S. courts agreed. Alexia had arrived at Holloway three months ago and had seen Roxie on three occasions since.
“Has anyone else been to see you since I last visited?” Roxie asked.
“No, my darling. But you mustn’t worry. There’s no one else I want to see.”
Roxie found this hard to believe. She thought back to her childhood and how social her mother had been. Both her parents, in fact. Politics was a social profession if ever there was one. It had been Alexia’s drug for well over half her life.
“Really? No one from the old days? What about Henry Whitman?”
“Henry?” Alexia laughed loudly. “You must be joking. Do you know, the entire time I was in the Home Office, he thought I was about to expose him for having an affair? Can you believe it? He only appointed me because he thought it would keep me quiet. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
“Why would he think that?”
Alexia shrugged. “Rumors. Westminster gossip. Who knows? I certainly never had the slightest intention of shopping him.”
“So he never made contact, not even after Daddy died?”
“I never expected him to, darling. Word is he’s angling to become the next UN secretary-general. With friends like me he won’t need enemies.”
Her mother seemed sanguine about it, but Roxie was aggrieved on her behalf. “Surely there must be someone from Westminster who keeps in touch? All those years . . .”
“I did get a sweet letter from Sir Edward Manning,” Alexia said wistfully.
“What did he say?”
“Oh, this and that. Political gossip mostly. He offered to visit, but it wouldn’t have felt right. He did send me a copy of Jeffrey Archer’s prison diaries, though. Have you read them? They’re terrific.”
An awkward silence fell across the table. Both women longed to reconnect with each other. But after so many years of estrangement, conversation didn’t flow easily. They had so little in common. Roxie was artistic and creative, Alexia pragmatic and ambitious. The one thing they shared was their family bond. But after everything that had happened, family was the one topic they both struggled to avoid.
“How’s Summer?” Alexia asked eventually. “Do you two see much of each other these days?”
Roxie brightened. “We do. We try to. She still visits Michael every day, you know.”
Both women marveled at Summer Meyer’s loyalty. Lucy’s affair with Michael was public knowledge now. The letter that Lucy had written to Summer, before she and Alexia set out to the beach that fateful day, was made public at her trial. Lucy Meyer had been posthumously convicted of the killings of Milo Bates and Jennifer Hamlin, as well as the attempted murder of Michael De Vere. She was buried in the family plot in Martha’s Vineyard, where Arnie apparently visited her daily. Still in love, still grieving, still unable to process the revelations that had surrounded his wife’s death. Poor man.
Lucy’s letter made it clear that she had always intended to kill herself once she’d “disposed” of Alexia. Like Alexia, Lucy had wanted justice, closure, and for the truth to be known. The only difference was that Lucy Meyer’s view of justice, of right and wrong, had been so skewed and poisoned by decades of hatred that it bore no relation to Alexia’s, or to any thinking person’s. There was no hint of apology in her note to her daughter, not for what she’d done to Michael or for anything else.
Summer and Arnie had both witnessed Lucy’s gruesome death. The police told Alexia afterward that Summer had been just feet away when Lucy blew her brains out. You never got over something like that. Arnie coped by denial, but Summer was too rational for such a strategy. Instead she’d fled to England and to Michael, burying her feelings as best she could. It was a wonder she wasn’t a total basket case.
“Give her my love when you see her,” said Alexia.
“And your brother, of course.”
“Of course,” Roxie mumbled guiltily. The truth was, Roxie no longer visited Michael. There was no point. His body might be there in the bed, but he was gone. But it would only upset her mother to tell her that. Better to focus on the future, on happy things.
“By the way, it’s not a big deal or anything. But I’m seeing someone.” She blushed endearingly.
Alexia’s face lit up.
“That’s wonderful, darling! Who?”
“His name’s William. William Carruthers.”
Alexia dimly recognized the name.
“He’s an estate agent,” Roxie went on. “Actually, he’s the chap who sold Kingsmere for us after Daddy died.”
Alexia frowned. She was about to say, So he knows exactly how much money you’re worth and he’s moved in for the main chance. But with an effort she bit her tongue. It wasn’t her place to try to manage Roxie’s life, romantic or otherwise. At some point she had to trust her daughter’s judgment. After all, how much worse could it be than her own?