Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford
Tags: #Family Life, #General, #Barbara Taylor Bradford, #Contemporary Women, #Fiction
In loving memory of Patricia Parkin, my British editor and friend for thirty years, who died on March 20, 2009. You told me to listen, and I did. I’m still listening to you, Patricia, and I always will be.
This book is also for my husband, Bob, who knows the many reasons why, with my dearest and abiding love.
e was a stocky, slightly rotund man, in his thirties or thereabouts, and he leaned against the van, looking perturbed. He took a long drag on his cigarette, wondering why Bart was taking so long. To his way of thinking, Bart should have done the job already and been back before now. And they should have been speeding away from the scene of the crime. He glanced at his watch; it was just a few minutes past four. They needed to be on their way. Heading back to London.
Wondering whether to go looking for Bart, he suddenly tensed, leaned forward, squinting in the sunlight coming through the trees. He listened acutely, frowning, wondering exactly
it was he had just heard. Scuffling? Branches breaking? Yes, that was it. And also a muffled scream? He wasn’t sure there had been a scream…
but maybe there had.
He hoped to God that Bart wasn’t up to his old tricks. They’d be in the shit if he was. And really and truly in it.
His impatience spiralled up, dragging with it sudden apprehension. Sam, for that was his name, made an instant decision. He dropped his cigarette on the dirt path, grinding it under his
foot. Pulling the key out of the ignition, he shut the door of the van, and hurried down the path into the denser part of the woods. It grew dimmer, sky and sunlight obscured by the density of the trees that formed a dark canopy above him.
Within a couple of minutes, Sam was close to the clearing; sounds became more distinct…Bart cursing and hissing and breathing heavily…and then a female scream cut short by Bart. And more scuffling.
Sam cursed under his breath, began to run, shouting, ‘Bart! Bart! For Christ’s sake, stop it!’
Startled, Bart swung his head sharply, turned his body towards Sam, and in so doing left himself vulnerable.
The young woman pinned under him seized her opportunity. Bringing her right hand up, she bashed Bart hard on the side of his head with a rock, and did so with unusual force. Dropping the rock, she pushed him hard with both hands. Injured, blood spurting, Bart fell backwards.
Scrambling to her feet, pulling up her jeans, the girl ran away, sped deeper into the woods, shouting, ‘Gypo! Gypo! Come on, boy!’
Sam was still frozen to the spot, filled with shock at their failure. A horse whinnying, hooves thudding along the path, told him the girl had escaped. She was gone. They’d never catch her now.
Rousing himself, Sam ran over to Bart, who lay on his back, his eyes closed, his head and face covered in blood. Sam bent over him, found a faint pulse, heard even fainter breathing. Bart was alive. Well, for the moment. Stupid bastard he was, messing with the girl, trying to screw her. Served him right, it did.
Getting hold of Bart under the arms, Sam dragged him along the dirt path, pausing from time to time to catch his breath. He was sweating profusely. It was unusually warm for March. When he finally got him to the van he opened the back doors, managed to drag Bart inside. He hid him under a blanket, closed the doors,
raced around to the driver’s seat, then backed the van along the dirt path until he came to the incline. Making a U-turn, he headed down onto the main road, began driving south. He didn’t know whether Bart was now dead or not. All he knew was that he had to get away from this area as fast as possible, before the girl raised the alarm.
His body was taut, his expression grim as he pushed ahead; after a while he began to slow his speed. All he needed was a local traffic cop on his arse.
Bloody hell, this was a disaster. Sam grimaced. The boss would have their guts for garters for messing up the way they had, for failing to eliminate the girl. No, hang on, it was Bart who’d failed. Not him. But understanding the way the boss operated, he was certain they’d both end up dead as a doornail.
Not if I can help it; not me, Sam muttered to himself. But what to do with an injured Bart or Bart’s body? How to deal with it? Dump it outside a hospital in another town? Leave it by the side of the road? He didn’t know. All he knew was that he had to save himself from the boss’s wrath…
‘Come live with me, and be my love, And we will some new pleasures prove Of golden sands, and crystal brooks, With silken lines, and silver hooks.’
From ‘The Bait’ by John Donne (1572-1631)
he young woman hurrying down Fifth Avenue was unaware of the stares as she plunged on determinedly through the downpour as though oblivious to it. She was, in fact, too consumed by her thoughts to notice passers-by.
They noticed her. They stared, nodded to themselves approvingly, or smiled with admiration. She drew attention for a number of reasons. She was rather exotic looking, with high cheekbones, black brows beautifully arched on her broad brow above large dark eyes. Her jet-black hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail that fell almost to her waist. Though not beautiful in the classical sense, she was, nonetheless, arresting, and had a unique look about her. Tall, slender, lithe, she moved with grace and had an inbred elegance.
Her clothes were simple; she was wearing a sleeveless black cotton shift and ballet slippers, her only jewellery large pearl earrings and a watch. She carried a battered old black Hermès Kelly bag, well polished, which had obviously seen better days, but looked just right on her arm.
The rain was coming down in torrents and she was already drenched, but she no longer bothered to look for a cab. There was
no point; they were all taken. She was heading home and much to her relief she wasn’t very far away now. Two blocks down and three avenues to cross and she would be at West Twenty-Second Street and Ninth Avenue.
A month ago, through her only friend in New York, a young man called Dax, she had found the perfect place: a comfortable room with two good-sized closets and its own bath in a brown-stone on this rather lovely old street. Being in Chelsea reminded her of London, gave her a sense of wellbeing, and she felt at home here.
When she had left London, she had left behind her name; she was known as M, and M did not mind the rain today. It was cooling on this blistering August afternoon. Earlier, around lunch time, it had been at least a hundred and one in the shade. Leni, the young receptionist at the Blane Model Agency, had announced with a big grin, ‘Betcha we could fry eggs on the sidewalk today, M. How about giving it a try?’
M had laughed with her, wanting to be nice. Leni had endeavoured to be helpful since the first day they had met. She had gone to Blane’s within days of arriving in Manhattan, two months ago now. Although the agency had not found work for her so far, they had been encouraging, and Leni’s friendliness had helped. M knew she was going to make it as a model. She had to; she had no choice. Not only had she something to prove to her family, but to herself as well, and nothing was going to stop her.
Glancing at her watch, M winced. It was already four o’clock, nine at night in London, and she usually called her sister on Fridays around this time. Although M was in her early twenties and considered herself to be very capable, her elder sister worried about her being alone in New York. But then she worried about everything: that was her nature. M loved her, missed her, but making it on her own had been too compelling to ignore. So here she was trying to be a model, trying to become another Kate Moss. She smiled inwardly at that idea. If only, she thought.
Increasing her pace, she crossed Seventh Avenue, striding out towards Eighth, in a bigger hurry now.
The brownstone was in the middle of Twenty-Second, between Ninth and Tenth, and as she drew closer she saw somebody huddled on the top step, leaning up against the front door. At once she realized it was her friend, Dax. They’d met at the Blane Agency when she’d first come to New York. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he was protecting himself with a newspaper, which he held over his head. He was as drenched as she was, and the minute she ran up the steps she saw he was shivering, looked pale, pinched.
‘Dax, what are you doing here?’ she exclaimed, pulling the door key out of her bag.
‘Getting decidedly wet,’ he shot back, grinning at her.
‘So I see, let’s get you inside. You’re shivering…are you sick?’
‘I’ve got a bit of a cold,’ he answered, ‘that’s all,’ and standing up he followed her inside.
The two of them stood dripping water in the tiled entrance for a moment until M took hold of his arm and led him into the small cloakroom, reminding him that Geo, from whom she rented her room, always insisted her house was kept pristine. ‘Get undressed in here and dry yourself, Dax. There’re towels in the cupboard next to the coat rack. I’ll be back with something dry for you in a minute.’
‘Thanks,’ he answered, still shivering, offering her a wan smile.
M went out, took off her wet ballet shoes and ran upstairs to her room. Within seconds she had shed her soaking dress and underwear, thrown them in the bathtub, rubbed herself dry and put on cotton trousers, a cotton T-shirt and dry shoes. Taking a large towelling robe out of the wardrobe, she went downstairs, knocked on the door of the cloakroom, and when it opened she put the robe over Dax’s outstretched arm. ‘That should fit you, Dax. You’ll find me in the kitchen…I’m going to make us a pot of really hot tea.’
‘The English cure-all for everything,’ he muttered.
‘Don’t knock it,’ M said, hurrying into the kitchen. Once the kettle was on the stove, she pulled her mobile phone out of her trouser pocket and dialled her sister in London. ‘Hi, it’s me!’ she exclaimed when the phone was answered at the other end. ‘I’m alive and well and kicking! How are you, Birdie?’
‘I’m fine, darling, very okay this week, and listen to me. You know I hate that nickname you gave me when you were little. Let’s forget it, shall we?’
Hearing the laughter in her voice, M chuckled, then went on, ‘How’s business? Has everything been going well?’
‘Yes, it has, and I heard from Mummy and Dad. They send their love. So does Gran.’
‘How is Gran? Is she feeling better?’
‘Loads, yes, and I’m sure it’s because Mummy and Dad are in Australia. You know how our mother cheers everyone up; makes them instantly feel better. And Gran’s no exception to the rule: having her much-loved daughter there has really helped.’
‘I’m glad to hear Gran’s better. I’ll give her a call over the weekend. Any other news?’
‘Not really…’ The sisters talked for a few minutes longer, and then said their goodbyes. Putting her mobile phone on the counter top, M opened the cupboard and took out her large brown teapot, which she had bought when she had moved into the brownstone.
After putting six English breakfast tea bags into the pot, she poured the boiling water over them. Her thoughts remained with her sister; M was concerned about her constantly now that she was on her own, a widow. Tragically, her sister’s husband had died of a heart attack two years ago and M was well aware she was still grieving. But that was natural. They had been so close, so very much in love, joined at the hip to M’s way of thinking. Then suddenly, unexpectedly he was gone…just like that, in the flicker of an eyelash. He had been only thirty-three, far too young.
At the time, her elder brother had said life was full of surprises, 75 per cent of them bad. She had disagreed with him, chiding him, calling him a cynic, but now she wasn’t so sure that he was wrong. Life did have a way of coming up to hit you in the face. Her father’s comment during this conversation had been typical of him. He had reminded her, and her brother, that what was meant to be would be, and that life had its own rules, and they were rules no one could change. M sighed under her breath, stood with her hand on the teapot, thinking about her sister, missing her more than ever at this moment. They had always been close, best friends.
‘Did I offend you, M? About the tea, I mean?’
M jumped, startled, and swung around to face Dax, exclaiming, ‘I didn’t hear you come into the kitchen. You made me jump.’
M grinned at him. ‘Of course you didn’t upset me, Dax. I’m not so easily offended, you know.’ She frowned at him, added, ‘You still look chilled to the bone. This hot tea will help.’ She reached into the cupboard as she spoke, took out two mugs, poured the tea and added milk. Carrying the mugs to the table under the window, she went on, ‘Come along, Dax, come and sit with me here.’
Tightening the belt of the towelling robe, shrugging into it for warmth, he joined her, sat down opposite and put his hands around the mug. ‘I came looking for Geo,’ he volunteered after a few seconds. ‘But I’m glad she’s not here. I realize it’s you I want to talk to…I feel more comfortable with you when I need to discuss my problems.’
‘You know I’ll help if I can,’ M murmured, eyeing him carefully, thinking that perhaps it was Geo he wanted to talk
She couldn’t imagine why he said he felt more comfortable discussing his problems with her, when he had never done such a thing in the past. It’s just his way of getting around his
awkwardness, she decided, and said, ‘Go on, then, Dax, tell me what’s wrong.’
‘Everything,’ he answered after a moment or two of thought. ‘And because nothing is going right for me here, I’m seriously considering going to LA.’
‘Do you mean permanently, or simply for a visit?’ she asked.
You know I want to be an actor, not a male model, and I think the only way I’m going to make it is by moving to LA, taking a chance out there.’
M’s dark eyes narrowed, and she said, very slowly, ‘But Dax, you’d just be changing one city for another. You’ll take your problems along with you.’
‘Not all of them. If I do move, I will be leaving Geo behind, and that will certainly solve one problem.’
‘It will? Which one?’
‘My muddled-up love life.’
‘Is it muddled? Really and truly?’ She sat back, took a sip of tea, and looked at Dax over the rim of the mug, waiting for a response.
‘I think it is. Look, my relationship with Geo has stalled. Actually, if you want the truth, it’s stagnant. I do care about her, and I thought I’d connected with the love of my life when we first got involved. But it’s just not going smoothly, and I think she’s lost interest in me…and I’ve got to confess my passion for her has been diluted.’ He sat back in the chair and took a long swallow of the tea, relieved to unburden himself.
‘Perhaps that’s because you think
lost interest in
and I’m certain she hasn’t…she’s always happy when you call her, I can attest to that. I live here, remember.’
‘There’s another problem, actually,’ Dax volunteered and, leaning closer across the table, he whispered, ‘I’ve fallen for someone else…Geo’s been away a lot lately, and I’ve been on my own, and well, look, I met someone who really turns me on, and who’s crazy about me.’
’ Taken aback, M stared at him, suddenly at a loss for words.
Dax said, ‘He’s just great, really special.’
‘Oh, I see,’ M muttered, and put down the mug of tea.
‘Don’t look so startled, so upset.’ Dax drew closer once more as he added, ‘I’m a member of both churches, if you know what I mean. And I’m quite happy in her church. And also in his.’ He smiled suddenly, his face lighting up. ‘But I don’t want to get too deeply involved with him, and so I think I should go to LA. Follow my life-long dream, so to speak, try and make it as an actor, and put my love life/sex life on hold, if you get my drift.’
‘Yes, I do, and I’ll say it again. You will still take your problems with you wherever you go to live.’
‘No, I won’t. I’ll be leaving Geo and Jason behind. Two problems dealt with! I’ll only have my career to worry about.’ He suddenly started to cough, jumped up, excused himself and hurried out of the kitchen.
M stared after him, frowning. Although she had been surprised when he had confided he was bisexual, she was neither troubled by it nor judgemental. But she was worried about his health. He looked genuinely ill to her. A moment later he was back, blowing his nose on a tissue.
‘Sorry about that,’ he said, sitting down at the table.
‘You’ve got a really nasty cold, you know.’ She stood up, went to one of the cabinets, took out a bottle of Tylenol, gave it to him. ‘Take some of these, and drink your tea.’
‘Yes, Mom,’ he said, grinning at her, and took three of the pills. ‘Well, thank God it’s stopped raining at last,’ he murmured, staring out of the window. ‘So, tell me, M, should I go to LA or not?’
‘I don’t know how to answer that, not really,’ M responded quietly. ‘I suppose it might be easier out there—to get an acting job, I mean. On the other hand, I keep hearing that actors are
two a penny in Hollywood, and that all of them are gorgeous and talented, male and female alike.’ She gave him a probing stare and finished, ‘Maybe you’re just running away from Geo and Jason? Do you think that might be it?’
‘Not at all. I’m only thinking about my future…in films. And you know I’ve been to so many auditions, looking for parts, trying to get an acting job. I’ve been doing that since long before we first met.’
‘Then think about this move just a little longer. Don’t do anything hasty, or rash. Give it a few weeks, try to find something here in New York, an acting job in television or maybe in the theatre. And as for Geo, tell her it’s over, if it really is. She’s a big girl, she’ll understand; and, anyway, you said she’d sort of lost interest in you. As for Jason, you have only two choices. You can stay with him. Or tell
goodbye as well. So that you can concentrate on your career.’
Dax gaped at her for a long moment, and then began to laugh hilariously, ending up coughing into his tissue. When he had settled down, he said, with a knowing grin, ‘If nothing else, you’re certainly outspoken, tell a guy what you really think.’
‘Do I? And what do I think?’
‘That I’m full of b.s.’
‘No, you’re wrong, I don’t think badly of you, Dax, honestly. But my sister always says I have a way of getting to the heart of the matter. And that’s what I’ve done with you…’ She broke off as the phone rang, and leaning over she picked it up. ‘Hello?’ After a moment listening, she went on, ‘That’s fine, and you’ll be staying there all weekend?’ Another pause as M listened again, and she silently mouthed, ‘It’s Geo. Do you want to speak to her?’
He shook his head vehemently.
M said, ‘Okay, Geo, I’ll do that, and I’ll be here all weekend. I’ll see you on Monday. Bye.’ Placing the phone in the cradle, she explained, ‘Geo’s at her sister’s in New Jersey. For the weekend, as you’ve no doubt guessed.’