Authors: Jules Moulin
Upstairs the penthouse sprawled and wound across parquet floors and paneled walls, with terraces that fell onto twinkling London.
The butler rang and brought up dinner. “Mr. Yastrzemski called ahead,” he said to her kindly. He presented a tray of lemon sole, avocado salad, and elderflower jelly with Chantilly cream and cherries for dessert.
“You'll be joining the cooking class tomorrow?”
“I will? I don't know,” Ally said with surprise.
“Mr. Yastrzemski signed you up. With our master chef.”
Minutes later, Ally froze when she entered the bedroom. A single box sat in the center of the bed. It was robin's-egg blue with a white satin ribbon.
She recognized the signature gift wrap. Tiffany.
She crossed to the bed, crawled up on it, and sat for a moment, gazing at the gift. She took the box and pulled the ribbon. The bow unfurled and fell away, and she carefully lifted the tiny top.
Inside the box she found another. She'd thought she might. The second was smaller, dark blue, and velvet.
She lifted its lid, and indeed, inside it, there was a ring: a simple, sparkling, one-carat solitaire, raised on its yellow-gold band on six classic prongs to let the light through, to look lit from within.
Ally stared at it, eyes wide, and pulled it from the box.
She tried it on.
She held out her hand, awed and moved, too tired to protest.
Then she collapsed. She sat up again and pulled down the bedspread, crawled between the sheets, and burrowed under, feeling the heft and weight of the duvet, the crisp, cool sheets, soft and smooth, and the weight of the strange new ring on her hand.
If she had stayed, if she had let it, the bedding itself would have lulled her to sleep, so she climbed out again. She wanted to be refreshed and awake when Jake came back.
A shower might help, she told herself.
The bathroom was a palace of white and gray marble and polished chrome, gleaming and smooth. The shower stall smelled of spicy soaps and the shower jets drained the fatigue from her muscles.
Half an hour later, she wrapped herself up in a plush towel, impossibly plush, and dried off her wet, naked body.
She slipped herself into the baby-doll nightie, replacing the thong with white cotton briefs.
She wanted to be Ally for real.
Ally in London. Engaged to be married to Jake Bean. Not Noah Bean, but Jake.
And Ally Hughes did not wear a thong after a twelve-hour day of travel.
Wrapped in a robe and under a throw, she settled into a chaise on the terrace.
Sipping tea, she gazed out at the river Thames, the Waterloo Bridge and Big Ben, which shone like the moon from Elizabeth Tower.
She thought of her own Elizabeth at home. Her grown-up Lizzie. She thought of how the years had flown and not flown. She thought of Claire, and of Jake, and how much she loved them and missed them both at different times.
Where was he now?
She hadn't called to say she was coming. But she knew he knew. He'd ordered dinner! She wasn't worried. She watched the minute hand circle around, around, and around, clockwise, forward, never back, and fell asleep.
At quarter past twelve, Jake woke her up.
Thank you to my hilarious and brilliant agent, Alexandra Machinist, for opening her spam folder at midnight, for her stellar advice, and for endlessly cracking me up. And to Sheila Crowley and Sophie Baker and the lovely Laura Regan, and everyone on the powerhouse teams at ICM and Curtis Brown.
This book would not be what it is today without Denise Roy, its editor at Dutton. My heartfelt thanks to Denise for tying Ally's shoelaces, for patiently walking me through this thing called getting a novel published, for her steadfast, astounding graciousness. This experience was an absolute pleasure. My thanks extend to Darren Booth, for his beautiful book cover, LeeAnn, Matthew, Katie, and everyone at Dutton and Penguin Random House.
Thanks, as well, to the following friends, lovers, scholars: Julia Rabig, Breanne Fahs, Barbara Winslow, Philip Shelley, Wendy Chapkis, Joannie Wooters-Reisin, Andrew Powers, and Isabel Jolly; to Bill and Mylin, for asking how the book was going; to Mary-Margaret Kunze, for taking Sundays; to Victor Constantino, for arguing over commas with me; and to my dear friend Elizabeth Barondes, for reading it first.
And last but not least, thanks to Doc Hog and DJ, my mom and dad.
Jules Moulin writes under about a hundred different pen names. She has a master's in journalism from Columbia University. She wrote various TV series, pilots, and movies for twelve years and then became a full-time mom. She lives in Pasadena, California, and sometimes New York City. This is her first novel.
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