Home » , , , , , , , » Forbidden, Book 1: A Novel of Love & Betrayal by Mike Wells & Devika Fernando

Forbidden, Book 1: A Novel of Love & Betrayal by Mike Wells & Devika Fernando

Jayne Clark felt the woman’s intense gaze like a physical touch, a slight itch at the back of her neck. It followed her wherever she went on her rounds through the café, serving customers and smiling as though nothing was wrong.
Forbidden, Book 1: A Novel of Love & Betrayal
Forbidden, Book 1: A Novel of Love & Betrayal by Mike Wells & Devika Fernando
“What’s the matter?” Kaitlin, one of the other servers, asked, when Jayne went to the terminal, to key in an order. “That lady keeps staring at me.” “What lady?” Kaitlin said, peering discreetly over her shoulder. “The one sitting by herself, at fourteen. She’s been here two days in a row.” The woman was truly stunning. The Savor the Moment café catered to an upscale clientele, at least for Wichita, Kansas, but this woman was beyond upscale. Tall, slender, and energetic-looking, she was perhaps forty years old, with a heart-shaped face, high cheekbones, a small nose and thin lips. She was wearing 5/6 black narrow trousers with a front crease, high heel black leather shoes that showed off her shapely ankles, and a fur jacket. To top it all off, she sported a fedora hat with a narrow brim, her auburn hair sticking out from underneath in elegant curls. She wasn’t from Wichita, that was certain. When she’d entered the café yesterday, a momentary hush had settled over the dining room. She effused an almost aristocratic aura, like a queen. She selected a table close to the door, ordered a bottle of Evian water, and never moved from the spot. Seated with effortless elegance, the mysterious lady might have been a statue if it hadn’t been for the warm smile that lit her features whenever Jayne came close or stole a glance at her from afar. She had ordered the most expensive dishes on the menu but hardly touched any of the food. Her cultured voice, with the slightest hint of a British accent, had been like tinkling bells, filled with the same warmth as her winning smile. When Jayne had left at the end of her shift, the woman had left her a crisp one hundred dollar bill. The change from it made an embarrassingly huge tip. Kaitlin looked back at Jayne, raising an eyebrow. “Maybe she’s taken a fancy to you.” “I hope not,” Jayne muttered, clicking in the order with her swipe card. She was pretty, softly feminine, and kind, and even though she was tall herself, she tended to attract strong, dominant types, for some reason. It wouldn’t be the first time a customer had a crush on her, nor a female one, either. For a moment, Jayne felt so stressed that she thought she might have an asthma attack. She’d had the disease all her life, and loathed it. She reached for her inhaler, which was in the pocket of her uniform. “Are you all right?” Kaitlin said. Jayne took a couple of slow, deep breaths from the device, calming herself. “I’m fine, just a little tired. It’s been a long shift.” * * * The following day, when the woman returned to take up the same place with the same million-dollar smile, Jayne’s alarm bells started to ring. She pretended to be unfazed and went about her usual tasks, as the café was quite busy. This was definitely a case of a customer taking an unwelcome liking to her. Jayne had found that the most effective tactic was to show the pest the cold shoulder. This approach did not seem to be working on her new admirer, unfortunately. Jayne was beginning to lose her patience. The entire staff was aware of the problem now, and she could hear her colleagues whispering and tittering behind her back. The woman’s mere presence, so regal and ominous and simply beautiful, set her on edge. Bracing herself to utter the cold words she was already practicing in her head, Jayne approached the table to take the woman’s order, intentionally standing farther back than usual. “Can you recommend anything?” she asked in that wind-chime voice of hers, smiling again. “Today’s special is Caesar salad, followed by caramelized onion meatloaf, mashed potatoes and chilled cucumber-buttermilk soup.” Jayne answered in a tone that was as cold as the soup. “If you recommend that, my dear, I’ll take it. And please bring me another bottle of water.” With a stiff nod, Jayne turned to leave, but the next words had her rooted to the spot. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something, darling. Would you agree to meet me for dinner this evening? Not here, of course.” Summoning her last vestige of politeness, Jayne kept her voice low but icy. “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a boyfriend.” This wasn’t true, unfortunately, but Jayne hoped it would do the trick. The woman looked embarrassed. “No, no, no, you’ve completely misunderstood me. I have something very important to tell you.” “I’ll bet.” “No, seriously, dear, this is something that will change your life, and in the most wonderful way.” She looked almost panicky, glancing around self-consciously—Kaitlin and one of the other servers had noticed the exchange. “If you give me a chance and hear me out, everything will make sense to you, I promise.” Curiosity reared its head, but Jayne was still skeptical. You could never be too cautious with strangers. On the other hand, this woman seemed like high-society and did not appear to be dangerous. “If you have something to tell me, why not discuss it here and now?” “Believe me, this is not the right place for such an important conversation.” She lowered her voice. “And I don’t want to get you in trouble at work.” Jayne gazed at the woman for a moment. She’s probably trying to recruit me for some sales pyramid scheme, Jayne thought, selling cosmetics or jewelry or beachfront condos in Wyoming. But for some reason Jayne found herself saying, “Oh, all right.” Money was so tight right now that she was willing to listen to any kind of scheme that might add some monthly income, even if it was a long shot. * * * Soft lights, scented candles on the tables, live piano music, and a menu where the cheapest dish cost a small fortune. They were at Antonio’s, the most expensive restaurant in Wichita. It required a membership to enter. Jayne felt thoroughly out of place, sitting opposite her effortlessly elegant companion in a secluded corner. She wondered if the woman had paid the outrageous annual fee just to come here for dinner once. Ever since they had met in front of the elegant old building, the posh lady—yet again dressed in black—had been beating around the bush. They had been here for almost an hour now, and nothing but one-sided attempts at small talk had passed. Jayne’s “admirer” had ordered wine for them, selecting from a long list the waiter had recited, but neither of them had touched their glasses. Her name was Eleanor, and she started telling Jayne all about her life. She was born in St. Louis, but now lived in Europe and had been married to a very “well off” British man who had passed away a few years ago. She talked and talked about how much she enjoyed traveling around the world, and so on. Jayne’s mind wandered during all this. She felt annoyed. Was Eleanor, if that was even the lady’s real name, trying to impress her, or what? Hearing this kind of thing only made Jayne feel inadequate. She was twenty-three years old, from an ordinary middle class family, had a degree in interior design, and because she could not find a job in her field, at least not in Wichita, had to work as a waitress. She was lonely, had broken up with her one and only real boyfriend six months ago, and all of her friends seemed to be getting married, one after the other. On top of that, her mother had been recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which was costing a fortune to treat. Jayne kept nodding politely, continuing to listen, or pretending to, wondering where the hell all this was going, or if the woman was simply some kind of nut. She kept waiting for a product catalog or sales brochures to be thrust in her face. But Eleanor just chattered on, and she kept looking at Jayne with a peculiar cast in her dark eyes. Was she imagining it or were the eyes glistening with unshed tears? What on earth was wrong with this woman? And why didn’t she have the guts to stop listening to this conceited drivel and get up and leave? Suddenly the stranger reached over and covered Jayne’s hand in a warm, firm grip. Jayne gasped and yanked her hand away. A lesbian, just like she’d suspected all along! Jayne opened her mouth to give her a piece of her mind, but the woman cut her off and announced in a stage whisper, “I’m your mother, Jayne!” Had she been slapped on her cheek, she couldn’t have been more shocked. She gaped at Eleanor open-mouthed, the sentence echoing loudly in her head and drowning out reality and reason. “You’re my—what?” “I’m your mother!” This couldn’t be. It was not possible. The woman really is nuts! Jayne thought. She already had a mother, thank you very much, one who was currently languishing in hospital while fighting a fierce battle for her life. But the lady seemed perfectly serious…and sane. Eleanor’s eyes were now spilling tears over her sculpted cheek bones. All of a sudden, something clicked into place inside Jayne, like the missing piece of a complicated puzzle. On her sixteenth birthday, her mother had revealed to her that she was adopted. Her parents had been unsuccessfully trying to have a child of their own for more than five years, and finally began talking to adoption agencies. At the time this information had been shared with her, Jayne had not even taken the revelation seriously. In fact, she had virtually forgotten about it until this moment. Their little family secret seemed trivial and irrelevant to her life. She’d always had all of the love a child could wish for, and it pained her to think that her poor mother felt the need to even tell her this. The news hadn’t sparked any urge inside Jayne to track down her biological parents or investigate her roots, the way some adopted children apparently did. For her, being adopted was a non-issue and always would be. Jayne was still trying and failing to get her act together when the woman reached for her hand again. This time, she was too rattled to pull away. The touch sent goose bumps up her arm. This was all so surreal! Could it be true? She struggled to focus, listening automatically to the words that spilled from the lady’s mouth in a gushing flood now, accompanied by tears. “You must believe me, Jayne. I am your real mother. Don’t judge me until you have heard out my whole story. My name is Eleanor Sotheby. Lady Eleanor Sotheby. I might be wealthy and powerful now, but I grew up in poverty.” * * * Fifteen minutes later, Jayne sat there in a daze, reeling from everything she’d been told. Eleanor Sotheby had related a fantastic story, this time in great detail, starting from her birth. No, it wasn’t a fantastic story, actually, it was an ordinary story, at least at the beginning, one that Jayne was sure repeated itself a million times a year around the world. Eleanor had grown up very poor in St. Louis, with a manual laborer mother and an abusive, drunken father. She had gotten pregnant at the age of sixteen by a dashing thirty year old man who promised her the moon, and who of course disappeared the moment he discovered she was pregnant. When her father found out what had happened, he had beaten her and tried to make her have an abortion, but Eleanor was determined to have the child. In the end, due to a cruel twist of fate, her father won out. The baby—Jayne—was born with myriad of medical problems which Eleanor’s mother and father couldn’t possibly afford to have treated. As a result, Eleanor had felt that she had no choice but to put Jayne up for adoption. For a moment, Eleanor broke down in sobs. She withdrew her hand and hid her face behind it, seemingly oblivious to their upscale surroundings, shaking with grief. A few of the other diners glanced at her. “It tore my heart out, Jayne, but my parents were right, we simply did not have the money to give you the care you needed and deserved. I couldn’t help it, I had to give you away. I had no choice, and it was the right thing to do.” She paused, sobbing again. “You do understand, don’t you? Please tell me you understand.” “Of course I understand,” Jayne said, her own voice quavering with emotion. “Handing you over for adoption completely broke me down. I needed medical treatment myself, and when I awoke from the depression, it was too late to find out what had happened to you.” Hearing the story cut Jayne to the core, but she still couldn’t make the connection to herself. She didn’t want to believe it. This was all just some sort of heart-breaking drama, and she was a mere spectator. It felt as if she was watching the scene on television. But the story had an underlying ring of truth for Jayne. Especially the medical problems. Though she had no memory of any of it, Jayne knew she’d spent a long time in the hospital after she’d been born, suffering from IUGR—Intrauterine Growth Restriction. That was the reason she now suffered from asthma, the only remnants of the condition. In fact, she was wheezing faintly now. If she became any more upset than she already was, she might have a full-blown attack. Thankfully, after a while, Eleanor’s sobs subsided. She took a white silk handkerchief with lace trimmings from her handbag, wiped her face, and composed herself visibly. Her voice was only trembling a little when she went on with a beseeching look on her grief-stricken face. “I think the beating my father gave me is the reason you had to be treated in hospital after you were born.” Now Jayne no longer felt like a mere spectator. She was feeling like a character in the sad story, and sorry for the beautiful woman, her mother. Eleanor said earnestly, “My darling, let me assure you that I have regretted that decision all my life. I have been searching for you all this time. When my husband passed away a few years ago, I increased my efforts—and now I’ve finally found you. My darling daughter. My Jayne!” Holding out both trembling hands, the woman managed a watery smile. “We are reunited. We are a family again! And, I have even more good news for you: You have a sister!” Chapter 1.2 Jayne Clark sat there for several minutes in stunned silence, trying to come to grips with what Eleanor Sotheby had just told her. The poor woman! Beaten by her father, nearly forced to have an abortion she didn’t want, and only a child, then, too. Jayne’s wine glass was nearly empty—she’d drunk it down in several gulps, her hands trembling slightly. “My dear, what are you thinking?” Eleanor said, looking uneasy. “I…I honestly don’t know what I’m thinking.” The first thing that had popped into Jayne’s mind was her mother’s haggard face—her “real” mother. How would Barbara feel about her biological mother showing up out of the blue, after all these years, and filthy rich, to boot? And finding out that Jayne had a sister? A half-sister, of course, but still a sister. An entire family had appeared out of nowhere, a family she didn’t even know existed ten minutes ago. Eleanor looked even more anxious, as if she thought Jayne might be having thoughts of fleeing the room. “Do—do you have any questions? Would you like me to tell you more?” Questions? Jayne thought. She had plenty, about a hundred of them that all wanted attention at the same time. Obviously, this lady was immensely wealthy and living a life Jayne could only dream about. Lady Eleanor Sotheby? What did that title even signify, and how had she gotten it, having obviously been born into a relatively poor family in St. Louis? Plus, what did it mean that they were kin and that Jayne had a sister? Did it even matter? What did Eleanor expect her to do now? Throw herself into the woman’s arms and weep, too? Dance with joy? She felt neither sadness nor happiness. It was all overwhelming. Jayne blurted out the one question that lay on the tip of her tongue. “What’s my sister like?” Eleanor smiled, looking relieved. She took a sip of her wine, folded her napkin and placed it on the table, her shiny nails tracing its outlines for a few moments as if she were trying to organize her thoughts. When she looked up again, there was that strange glitter of adoration again, mixed with an excitement so sharp it cut through all the confusion. “Her name is Celeste, and she’s dying to meet you. She’s always known how important you were to me, and that I would never rest until I found you. If she had any idea about the fantastic news that I have tracked you down, she’d be telling me to hurry up and bring you home! Oh, you two will get along so well! I can’t wait to have both my children united and with me. It’s a dream come true!” This touched Jayne. She was an only child and had always longed for a sister. An elder sister, for some reason, just a bit older than her. She had fantasized about it often when she was little, even as a teenager, imagining what they would say to each other, what they would do together, being so close, walking hand in hand, playing together, even dating boys together. Sometimes the fantasy was so real it seemed as if her imaginary sister actually existed...and now it turned out she was real! Eleanor was just sitting there, smiling at her. Oddly, Jayne did not feel much emotion towards Eleanor. She supposed this was because she had come to grips with being adopted a long time ago. But Jayne was genuinely excited about Celeste, and knowing more about her. “And where exactly do you and Celeste live?” she asked. “Our main home is in Paris, but we have a winter chalet in the Alps and a summer villa on the French Riviera. Celeste is currently at the villa—it’s near Nice.” Of course, Jayne thought, slumping back in her chair. Paris. Nice. The French Riviera. The Alps. She envisioned chalets and villas filled with liveried servants and gold-plated bathroom fixtures. This was all too much. Then another thought struck her. “How old is Celeste?” In all the confusion, Jayne had just realized that this ominous blood relation might well be a school child, and she’d certainly have no idea how to handle that. “Oh, she’s quite grown up, dear,” Eleanor said, as if she understood exactly what Jayne was thinking. That was a relief. “What does she do? What do you do?” Though that hardly seemed possible, Eleanor smiled even wider now, showing off two rows of flawless, pearly white teeth. “I’m so glad you’ve asked, because I have great news to share with you about Celeste, news I have been dying to tell you. Celeste is engaged to be married!” Another surprise. “That’s wonderful,” Jayne said a little weakly, but felt genuine happiness for the sister she’d never even met...though somewhere inside her she felt a pang of sadness. Would she ever get married herself? Even the sister she didn’t know she had was getting married. “Who is she marrying?” Jayne asked. “Her childhood sweetheart, Robert Astor. He is a wonderful young man, Jayne, perfect for our family. We’ve been busy with planning the wedding, but I couldn’t stop searching for you even with all the other things to attend to—it actually just made me even more determined to find you. Now the wedding will be perfect because you will be a part of it, too!” “Me?” Jayne squawked. “Why, yes, of course. You simply must come to the wedding, darling! Only then will it be a true family reunion. I can see it all clearly now, it’s going to be the party of a lifetime! Celeste will never forget the special day, and neither will I.” Jayne found herself wishing she had ordered a martini—a double—instead of leaving the choice to her companion. Leaning forward and using that persuasive tone of hers, Eleanor said, “Please tell me you accept my invitation, my dear. Come and visit us in France so you can get to know your sister and be there at her wedding. It will be such a wonderful surprise. It’s a chance you simply cannot miss! I know you two will hit it off fabulously.” Hesitating, Jayne said, “Thank you for inviting me. It sounds wonderful. But to be honest, I can’t see myself going to France, or anywhere else. I’m on high demand at work….” She considered sharing the fact that her mother had cancer, but decided against it. “…and I don’t think I could just take leave suddenly. Besides, I don’t have the money to pay for a trip to Europe.” Eleanor tsked and waved her protest away as if swatting at a mosquito. “Details, details. Surely somebody can take your place at the café. Why don’t you take a few days off and visit us, get to know Celeste, and then come back later for a week or more when it’s time for the wedding? That way you could work in between. As for the money, don’t even think about it. Of course I’ll cover all of your expenses. You’re my daughter and Celeste’s sister, and you’ll be our guest. I’ve been waiting my whole life to pamper you, my love!” Jayne was at a loss for words. Eleanor took her hand again. “My dearest long-lost daughter, please say yes. Please?” Chapter 1.3 Two Days Later Nice, France As the plane descended towards the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, Jayne Clark was experiencing a flurry of emotions. She had boarded the United Airlines flight at the Wichita airport in Kansas, feeling oddly sentimental when she saw her hometown shrink away beneath her. The nearly empty plane had taken her to O’Hare International Airport, where she had transferred to the “real” plane. This Swiss Airlines flight, packed with people, had carried her on and on, all the way to Zurich in Switzerland. After transit number two, the last leg of the journey had literally flown by. As Jayne walked down the gangway in Nice, she found herself filled to the brim with anticipation. What was this new family like? What was their home like? What did Celeste look like? Even though they were only half sisters, she wondered if they favored each other. Was this even real? She kept wondering if it was all some kind of crazy trick or mistake, and held her most positive hopes in check. When she stepped out into the airport lobby, she almost missed the signboard that said MS JAYNE CLARK in big, bold letters. She swallowed when she saw a man in what looked like a grey uniform holding up the board, scanning the crowd. She felt unworthy of the attention, dressed in wrinkly jeans and a summer blouse that had seen better days. As she approached the man, he executed a small bow. “Follow me, please,” he said politely, with just a hint of a French accent. As it turned out, he was her chauffeur, and he hadn’t come to pick her up in an ordinary car, but in a limousine so shiny in the sunlight that it nearly blinded her. Jayne stood blinking at the impossibly long vehicle, and for a second she was scared of so much as setting foot in it. Goodness, what world was she about to enter? She had been to Europe once, after she graduated from high school, on an organized backpacking trip to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, and Rome. The group had stayed in youth hostels, a dozen to a room, bought the cheapest possible airline and bus tickets. While she’d loved the trip, she suffered from physical discomfort much of the time, crammed together with a bunch of wild young people, some of them away from home for the first time. This trip to Europe was a different matter altogether, first class all the way. At the end of their dinner at Antonio’s, Eleanor had peeled off two thousand dollars in cash for Jayne to buy the plane ticket as if the money were pocket change. The next thing she knew, she’d be eating from golden plates and drinking from crystal glasses. As she was whisked away from the airport in the limo, her thoughts turned briefly to her poor, sick mother. Jayne had lied to her about the real reason for the sudden trip to France, telling her that one of her classmates from WATC—Wichita Area Technical College—was getting married there to a wealthy young man from Paris, and that she’d been invited to be a bridesmaid at the wedding, all expenses paid. “I wish I had friends like that,” her mother had said, lying there in the hospital bed, her skin as pale as the sheets. Jayne had laughed, but the guilt she felt for deceiving her mother gnawed away at her insides, and still did. She told herself it was for the best. She didn’t think it was wise to share the real reason, with her mother in such a weakened condition—there was no telling what emotional reaction it might cause. The doctors had said that any kind of stress worsened her condition and interfered with the positive effects of the expensive chemotherapy she was receiving. Besides, it was better for Jayne to go and investigate, see what Eleanor and Celeste were all about before she went and unloaded this amazing turn of events on her mom. It was all so unexpected and fantastic that Jayne still had trouble believing it, even while in the limo. The long, sleek vehicle soon turned down a curvy road that ran along the beach dotted with spectacular Mediterranean-style villas. The heady splendor of the French Riviera took her breath away. They stopped at a huge, ornate iron gate. The driver got out and spoke into an intercom. A moment later, the gate magically opened and Jayne was transported down the driveway. To her right lay the glittering Mediterranean Sea, stretching endlessly in various hues of turquoise, blue and green. They passed a long, winding stone staircase that led from the hill down to a secluded stretch of beach. To her left was the villa itself, which enjoyed a breathtaking, panoramic view. In front of the house, in the courtyard, there was a light green Bentley. The color of money, Jayne thought wryly. The house was a two-story, stucco structure with pale yellow walls, a red-tiled roof and white-shuttered windows. A fountain gurgled away in the courtyard, and the terrace below led to a sparkling gem of a pool that glittered under the hot sun. Exotic plants spilled their colorful flowers everywhere. It looked like paradise. The limo driver opened the door for Jayne and she climbed out. The mixture of the scent of all the flowers and the salty sea air was intoxicating. She could smell traces of jasmine, sage, orange blossoms, eucalyptus, lavender...it was only March, but apparently spring had already come to the French Riviera. Before she even had the chance to take in all of the beauty, the villa’s front door opened and Eleanor stepped out. She was dressed in black and looked exactly the way she had in Wichita, minus the unsettling fur jacket and the hat. She seemed even taller now. After a curt, almost haughty command to the chauffeur, who carried Jayne’s baggage into the villa, Eleanor lost her formal composure. She covered the last few feet in a rush and embraced Jayne. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been waiting impatiently to have you by my side, and shower you with the luxuries you deserve!” Jayne wasn’t sure how to react to this. She didn’t hug the woman back—it still felt awkward. There was no doubt in her mind now that Eleanor was her biological mother, but she still had no feelings at all for the woman, no more than she would have for anyone she had only just met. She also saw no physical likeness to herself in Eleanor, except the height. Jayne smiled brightly at her. “Thanks for arranging such a wonderful trip. It’s all so new and different and precious. I still feel like I’m dreaming.” “Never mind the trip, my dear. Let’s get you settled in.” Eleanor took her by the elbow and led her into the villa. * * * The next few hours went by in a blur. Jayne’s eyes grew wider and wider during the tour of the premises. The villa boasted eight bedrooms and six bathrooms, a kitchen, a servant’s quarter at the back, a large dining-room, an even larger living-room, and a wine cellar. The place looked magnificent, but also, as if it clearly hadn’t been used since last year. Most of the furniture was covered in white sheets, almost all the windows were shuttered. Oddly, there was not a single servant in sight. “I apologize for the state this place is in,” Eleanor said, as she pulled a sheet off a magnificent Roentgen desk. This kicked up some dust and Eleanor sneezed. “Bless you,” Jayne said, and they both laughed. “I’ll have to get some domestics in here to clean up, but they’re so hard to find these days. I would have had some sent down from Les Fleurs, but I don’t like moving them around. They don’t travel well.” Jayne wasn’t sure if she should laugh at this or not. “What is Les Fleurs?” “That’s the name of our home in Paris.” “Oh.” It meant “The Flowers”—Jayne knew that much French. She had taken three years of the language in high school. She could only imagine what a house of that name would be like—a mansion? Or a castle? Eleanor motioned out of the living room window. “The gardens are a fright, completely overgrown. I normally keep the landscaping service through the winter but the company just forgot about us, apparently.” Eleanor shook her head in frustration. “At least the pool service company did their job. Honestly, Jayne, the French are the laziest people on this entire planet. I import nearly all my domestics from England. It’s expensive, but I have no choice. In my opinion, Great Britain is the only country that produces top-notch domestics.” As Jayne helped Eleanor uncover more furniture, the interior designer in her was itching to explore the rooms more, to run her hands over the old furniture and pick up all the quaint or costly decorative items—but that would have to wait. Meeting her half-sister was first and foremost on her mind. Just thinking of getting to know another new family member made her palms sweat. What would sophisticated, pampered Celeste make of this scrawny American middle-class girl so out of her league here? “Where is Celeste?” Jayne said, finally mustering up the courage to ask. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Eleanor said, shaking the dust out of another sheet. “I should have told you. Celeste isn’t here yet. She’s gone on a shopping trip to Milan with some friends, and I’m afraid things have gotten a bit out of hand. She should’ve arrived yesterday, but as it is, she’ll be in later this evening. Are you excited to meet her?” “Yes, very.” “You two will become the greatest friends, I’m sure of that.” If at all possible, Eleanor’s smile was brighter than ever. “Why don’t you settle in now and refresh yourself, maybe even nap for a bit? Time will fly by that way.” * * * Time indeed did fly by. Jayne’s bedroom was magnificent, furnished with French antiques and providing a lovely view of the garden, swimming pool, and the sea. Jayne had showered, stocked the cupboards in her room with her clothes and a few belongings, and taken a short nap, feeling the strangely tiring effect of jet lag. Afterward, she and Eleanor had sat on the terrace overlooking the pool, which was surrounded by impressive Greek statues. After much cajoling, Jayne had revealed more about her life. Eleanor knew the basics from her endeavors of tracking her down, but she was asking for so many details she reminded Jayne of a starving woman begging for food. “Oh, that’s such a shame,” Eleanor said, when Jayne told her about her mother’s medical condition. “It must be so hard on you, darling.” Jayne swallowed. Hard was an understatement. Not only was she terrified that she would lose her mother, the chemo treatments were so expensive that Jayne was in a constant state of stress. She was working double shifts to pay for the drugs. Her mother’s medical insurance wasn’t enough to cover it, and took every penny of her meager waitressing salary, not to mention some money she’d managed to save up that she had planned to use to move to Kansas City. She was sure she could get an interior designer job if she searched diligently enough, but she supposed those plans would have to be put off indefinitely. Eleanor also asked about Jayne’s romantic life, but fortunately, did not pry after Jayne told her about the breakup with Nathan, her only serious boyfriend. “Oh, you’re so lovely,” Eleanor, patting her hand reassuringly. “Some young man will come along and fall head over heels for you, don’t you worry.” Jayne smiled. I hope so, she thought, but the question is, will I fall head over heels for him? That seemed to be Jayne’s problem. Men were interested in her, certainly—she met plenty of them working at Savor the Moment, but only very rarely did she meet one who stirred her heart, and even more rarely one that knocked her off her feet, soul-mate style. She’d thought that Nathan was that special man, at first, but it was soon clear he did not share her deeper feelings, and that his career was far more important to him than she was. Her mother told her she was being too picky, but was it really possible to control who you fell in love with? Jayne didn’t think so. That magical spark was either there, or not, as far as she was concerned, and her heart had only been struck by Cupid’s arrow the one time. Of course, Jayne told Eleanor none of these things. It was far too early to be that intimate with her, whether she was Jayne’s biological mother or not. They had a sumptuous dinner delivered to the villa from a local catering company. Afterwards, they went out to the deck and had a glass of wine, relaxing and talking more. Jayne asked about how Celeste occupied her time, and Eleanor said “Oh, she dabbles in fashion design,” and waved her hand dismissively, as if it was only a hobby. “Did she study fashion design in college?” “No, she went to Queen Margaret University, in Edinburgh. She studied…honestly, I’m not sure what she studied, pubic relations and drama, something like that.” It must be nice to be rich, Jayne thought, and not have to worry about what major you choose in college. They lived in another world. Eleanor asked about Jayne’s education, and Jayne started telling her about interior design school when the sound of tires crunching on gravel silenced her. Eleanor jumped up and hurried out of the dining room. Was Jayne imagining things or had she really read nervousness on the woman’s face? Well, who wouldn’t be nervous if her long-lost daughter was about to meet her other daughter? This is it, Jayne thought, her pulse racing. Rising from the chair to go inside and properly greet her half-sister, she wondered what the heck one said in such a moment. Surely she couldn’t just blurt out something as common as “Pleased to meet you”? When the front door opened, Jayne gasped for the second time today. Her legs gave way and she nearly fell down on the tile floor. The two young women both stared at each other, mouths hanging open. “Oh my god!” they both uttered, nearly in unison. The girl standing before Jayne, eyes wide, mouth agape, was a carbon copy of her! And she looked just as unprepared and flabbergasted as Jayne. They were twins! That was the only explanation. Identical twins! Eleanor finally broke the spell, stepping up to them. Celeste cried, “Mother, why didn’t you tell me?” The sound of Celeste’s voice made the hair on the back of Jayne’s neck stand up. It was identical, too, like listening to a recording of her own voice, but spiced up with a touch of elegance. Celeste turned back to Jayne, still looking stunned. They slowly took each other in from head to toe. It took Jayne several seconds, and lots of blinking to realize that even though they were physically identical, there were subtle differences. This wasn’t her exact reflection she was looking at—this was a version of Jayne dressed in expensive designer clothes, with a fashionably short haircut, and decked out in expensive jewelry. Also, as soon as the initial shock had been overcome, Jayne’s mirror image looked far more dignified and polished than she did. With a poised, upper-class air much like her mother, the young woman set her Gucci handbag down on the table by the door, her gaze never leaving Jayne’s face. When she came closer, Jayne fought to maintain her composure. Of course she wasn’t looking at a posh version of herself, but at her sister—her twin sister! How amazing! With the recognition came the thrill of meeting. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. Before she knew it, they had bridged the distance and were embracing each other so tightly their ribs protested. For a moment, it felt as if Jayne were hugging herself. It was all so strange. When they finally separated, they were grinning at each other from ear to ear, and speechless. Jayne was afraid to say a word, as if it might break the spell. It was like some strange dream...as if her childhood fantasies had come to life. Yet, why hadn’t Eleanor so much as dropped a hint? Jayne wondered. Beaming and taking each of her daughters by an elbow, Eleanor steered them to dining room and motioned for them to sit down. She took the seat at the head of the table and let her adoring gaze wander from one to the other. Joy at having both children with her was written all over her face. “You two must forgive me, girls. I know it’s a shock, but I thought it would be better this way. Jayne was stunned enough by me showing up in Kansas out of the blue, so I only told her she had a sister, not a twin. As for you, my dear Celeste, I didn’t want you to long for your sibling as intensely as I longed to have my daughter in my life. If you had known that you were twins, you might have felt the loss as acutely as I have all this time. I was afraid I’d get your hopes up when I might never find Jayne.” That made sense, but still…Jayne’s mind was reeling. Nothing could have prepared her for meeting her own twin. She struggled to control her breathing. What sort of a first impression would it make if she started choking and wheezing right now because of an asthma attack? Somehow, she needed to get a grip on herself. She had known about having a sister and told herself she shouldn’t be so astonished. But hold on, what about Eleanor’s heart-breaking story about having to give up her child? Now it was clear there had been two babies, not just one, identical twins! As if Eleanor had heard her thoughts, she said, “Another reason I didn’t tell you was not only because it would have been too much to load you with all at once, but it would have been too much for me, too...having to relive the ordeal. I only want to tell this story once, to the two of you, together. All right?” They both nodded. Eleanor’s face took on a grief-stricken expression. She took one deep, unsteady breath, and plunged into it. “I didn’t know I was carrying twins until late into the pregnancy. It terrified me even more, and enraged my father so much that he beat me even harder—there would be two new mouths to feed instead of only one. It might have been due to that, or simply that I was undernourished, but you two didn’t get the chance to form properly inside of me. I went into labor five weeks earlier than predicted.” For a moment, Eleanor closed her eyes, as if reliving the nightmare. Her hands were folded neatly on top of each other on the table, immobile, but Jayne could feel herself shaking in her stead. “Celeste, you were born first, three minutes earlier than your sister. You were a little bigger and stronger than Jayne, the healthier of the two. Both of you needed to be monitored and protected. Jayne, you developed an infection, and it was then that the doctors told me you suffered from IUGR and would need a lot of medical attention in the future, and that it would be very expensive. My father flew into a rage right there in the hospital. He insisted I put you up for adoption. It tore my heart out, but I knew it was the best thing for you, so…” One solitary tear slid down Eleanor’s cheek before she pulled herself together. “I let you go.” Eleanor swallowed, composing herself for a moment. “It was the most difficult thing I had ever done, but I knew there were thousands of couples who could not have children. They’d readily take a sick baby and pay for all expenses in a way my family was unable to.” Celeste’s melodious voice, also tinged with sadness now, interrupted her. “Mother, you had no choice. We know that. Don’t burden yourself with guilt.” Jayne merely nodded in agreement, still too stunned to say anything. Eleanor straightened her shoulders. “You’re right, of course. I did the correct thing at the time, though I have regretted it ever since. I had to fight tooth and nail to prevent my father from tearing you away from me too, Celeste. He wanted me to offer you up for adoption as well, but I refused. My father relented but swore he’d never spend a penny on his “illegitimate grandchild.” Chapter 1.4 St. Louis, Missouri 23 Years Earlier “I want an abortion, you pious bastard!” Eleanor screamed at her father. It was a Sunday morning, and her parents had returned from church. Eleanor had just told them in no uncertain terms that she was pregnant. Her father blinked once behind his glasses and looked at Eleanor’s mother, who was standing there in the kitchen with silent tears pouring down her face. She hadn’t said a word yet. Neither one of them looked particularly surprised. “Abortions are a sin,” her father said calmly, after collecting his thoughts. He never became upset or angry, which only infuriated Eleanor more. “You must give birth to the child. There are special places for girls who have gotten themselves into your—” “I want an abortion!” Eleanor yelled again. “How could you do this to us?” her mother finally said, sobbing. “You’re only fifteen years old, and a Christian!” “Oh, shut up, you cow,” Eleanor muttered. She stood there in her miniskirt and torn stockings, her young, full breasts spilling out of her leather jacket. Her parents disgusted her. She could barely stand to look at the two scaredy-cat losers who, in some cruel twist of fate, God had chosen for her as parents. That is, if there was a God at all, something that Eleanor seriously doubted. She casually pulled a cigarette from her pocket, and lit it, looking from one haggard face to another. She suddenly felt calmer—what the hell could these two weaklings do to stop her from having an abortion if she wanted one? “No problem,” she said, blowing smoke out the side of her lipstick-smeared mouth. “If you won’t give me the money to pay for one, I’ll just whore myself out for it.” * * * If some children were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, Eleanor was born with a keen awareness that there was no silver spoon in hers. The “sins of greed and envy,” as her father called it, reared their heads in Eleanor from the time she was old enough to look at a television screen or magazine. “Why don’t we have a house like that?” “Why is our car so old?” “How come I can’t have that dress?” “I want more dolls! Why can’t I have more dolls?” The blatant materialistic streak that both her parents saw in their only child baffled them. They were both humble, church-going, God-fearing people who believed that the correct way to live life was simply and austerely, to focus on one’s faith. Chasing after earthly pleasures would lead to one’s downfall. Neither of them drank, smoked or used any form of profanity. They tried in every way they knew to instill these values in Eleanor, but all their efforts failed—their words went in one ear and out of the other, and their behavioral examples were completely ignored. In fact, the harder they tried, the more she rebelled. * * * By the time Eleanor was halfway through elementary school, she began to focus more on why she couldn’t have what some of the other kids could, on why her parents were so unacceptably poor. Even though they lived in a lower middle class neighborhood near the St. Louis Airport, there were a few rich kids in her class, kids who would arrive at school in expensive cars chauffeured by their wealthy “soccer moms” who didn’t even have to work for a living. At first Eleanor simply thought that both her parents were stupid. Then she began to grasp the concept of ambition, and decided that this was the root. Neither of them wanted to be anything special, so of course they were poor. The rich kids’ parents were doctors or lawyers or ran their own businesses, cool like that. Her own father drove a bread truck and her mother worked at a laundry. Neither had been to college, which seemed to correlate with being rich, though Eleanor wasn’t quite sure how. If college was anything like elementary school, where you had to read and do math and study, she wanted no part of it. In any case, she decided that both her parents were “losers” and began referring to them that way, shocking her teachers. She didn’t give a rat’s ass what anybody thought of her. She hated being poor—there was no way she would live her parents’ miserable lives when she grew up. By the time Eleanor was in the fifth grade, she was already developing a bust, and her pretty face and long legs began to attract a lot of attention from men of all ages. She had always been the tallest girl in her class, and her height made her seem older and more mature. She began to understand that simply being beautiful and sexy might be a viable way to avoid college and become rich. When Eleanor was in the sixth grade, she met a boy named Owen who she immediately befriended. He was wild, wore outlandish clothes, rode a skateboard, smoked cigarettes, cursed like a sailor, and raised all kinds of hell at school. He was cute, too, and on more than one occasion they kissed under the bleachers in the gym, and engaged in some petting, though neither of them knew what they were doing. One day their regular teacher was out sick and they had a substitute. The nervous-looking woman was a tight, straight-laced type that reminded Eleanor of her mother. The first thing the woman did was ask them all to make name tags and put them on their desks. She then looked uncertain of how to handle the class and so, improvising, she said, “Let’s start today by going around and telling what we want to be when we grow up.” “Jesus,” Owen sighed. She looked at the girl in the front row, farthest to the left, and gave a warm smile. “Kristine, what would you like to be when you grow up?” As the kids started giving the standard answers to the question—a nurse, a policeman, a veterinarian, etc. Owen suddenly turned around to Eleanor and began whispering in her ear. A few minutes later, the teacher made it around to them. “And Owen?” she said, glancing at him name tag. “What would you like to be when you grow up?” Smugly, he said, “First, I want to become a fighter pilot and kill a lot of people, then I want to go to Harvard and start my own business and become a billionaire and go to all the best clubs in New York. I’m going to find the most beautiful whore in the world and buy her houses in Paris and London and Rome and fly her all over the place in my private jet and we’re going to have wild and crazy sex all the time!” The woman’s mouth had become unhinged. The other kids were all equally shocked. The teacher seemed to believe that the best thing to do was ignore the comment and move on. “Uh, Eleanor, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Eleanor grinned, her eyes flashing wicked delight. “I want to be Owen’s whore!” * * * Eleanor was nearly expelled in middle school on several occasions, but like her parents’ attempts to enforce discipline, these actions only worsened her behavior. She dressed in the most sexually provocative ways possible and was constantly sent home to change her clothes. She never cracked open a book or did any homework but was smart enough to pass all of her tests, though some of them just barely, without studying at all. By the age of fourteen, she knew no limits. She openly drank and smoked and cursed at home. She experimented with a variety of drugs, some of which she received in exchange for sexual favors. She pierced her navel and other body parts her parents didn’t know about, and had several tattoos inked into her shoulders and back and abdomen. Her helpless mother cried and wrung her hands—her father, forever unfettered, quietly lectured her on her sins. She was out at all hours of the night, and began dating much older men, some in their thirties and forties. The man who eventually got her pregnant—she thought—was a thirty-two year old drug dealer who gave her a gram of cocaine for sleeping with him. Because her periods had always been irregular, Eleanor actually did not know she was pregnant until she passed out one night due to taking too many downers, and was rushed to the emergency room. When the female gynecologist at the hospital confidentially told her she was pregnant, she merely frowned in surprise and said, “Well, fuck me.” * * * It was the Sunday after Eleanor came home from the hospital, after the downers overdose, that her parents informed her they forbade her to have an abortion. When she told them she would have one anyway and would “whore herself out” if necessary to pay for it, her father calmly told her that he’d found illegal drugs in her bedroom, and that he’d called the police, and they had come and seized the contraband as evidence. Eleanor was outraged. He used the drugs as blackmail against her. “Because you’re a minor, the police have left this decision in our hands,” her father told her in his infuriatingly even voice. “You have a choice, Eleanor. You can have the baby and your mother and I will care for it as if it is our own child—Grandma Liz will move in and help out. We have arranged for you to be home-schooled for the rest of this year. After the baby is born in the summer, you can go to a different school in the fall and hopefully clean up your act and graduate.” “Or…?” Eleanor said darkly. Her father shrugged, glancing at her mother. “Or, you defy our wishes and we will lend you the money for an abortion, if you insist on committing that sin. And the moment it’s been completed, you will be arrested on drug charges and sent straight to a reform school, where you will remain until you’re eighteen years old. We have already worked it out with the police and judge. It is your choice, Eleanor.” * * * Eleanor was so furious she smashed all the furniture in her room to pieces. She couldn’t believe her parents were doing this to her! She considered running away, but the thought of doing that while she was pregnant, with no money, was daunting. Passing out and being rushed to the emergency room had scared her—it was the first time anything like that had ever happened to her, the first time she felt like she had ever completely lost control of herself. She grudgingly agreed to their plan and barricaded herself in her room, miserable but unable to think of any way out. All her friends were told that she had gone away for the rest of the year, to stay with an “aunt” who lived in California. Her mother piled her home-schooling materials outside her door, and she angrily did the work and dumped the finished papers back out in the hallway. She ate every meal in her room, and did nothing else but watch television and feel sorry for herself. For the first four months, the only time she left the house was for her mother to take her to her regular appointments at an OBGYN clinic on the other side of St. Louis, where nobody would know her. She refused to let any ultrasounds be made that could determine the gender of the baby, despite her mother’s urging. “Do you think I give a rat’s ass if it’s a boy or a girl?” During her fifth month, when she really started to show, she was at her wits’ end, bored out of her mind. Her father had told her that if she ever left the house without their permission, he would go straight to the police. But eventually her boredom and restlessness won out. She climbed out her bedroom window, which was on the second floor of their small house, and picked her way down to the ground via the gutter support. It was one o’clock in the morning. Avoiding the streets, she crept through yards for the six blocks required to reach Owen’s house, and she threw pebbles at his bedroom window. He was astounded to see her—like everyone else, he thought she was in California. He noticed her stomach and she lied, telling him that she’d gotten a little fat sitting around at her aunt’s house, and that she’d come back from L.A. for a visit. She wanted to go for a ride on his new Yamaha, which he’d gotten for his sixteenth birthday, only a few days before her emergency trip to the hospital. She also shared a half gram of coke with him that she’d been saving, that had been hidden under her bedroom carpet, wedged between the floorboards. By two a.m., the two teenagers were both fired up and tearing around St. Louis on the motorcycle. When they were headed back towards their own neighborhood, turning from Breckenridge Road onto Ashby Road, Owen took the turn too fast and the bike skidded sideways. The front wheel hit the sidewalk and Owen lost control—the bike flipped and both he and Eleanor were thrown off, landing in the parking lot of an ice cream parlor. Fortunately, both of them were wearing helmets. Owen suffered a shattered knee, and a broken arm and wrist. Miraculously, Eleanor hit the pavement on her back and slid more than thirty feet, the rough concrete ripping through her jacket and giving her nothing but a bad case of road rash on her elbows, back, and butt. However, by the time the ambulance arrived, Eleanor knew that something else was terribly wrong from the blood that flowed from between her legs. * * * The birth of the twins was both incredibly easy and incredibly difficult at the same time. The first baby was delivered almost effortlessly, within minutes, a textbook birth without the slightest complication. The second one, in contrast, took all night. “That little girl just doesn’t want to come out into this world,” a nurse commented several times. Preliminary exams indicated the first twin was in perfect health. The second infant showed signs of “intrauterine growth retardation,” which apparently meant it was born prematurely. Eleanor only half-listened, not wanting to hear about any of it, nor did she even care to hold her babies in her arms. The truth was, she was afraid she might get attached to them and change her mind about leaving St. Louis. Giving birth had caused some shift inside her and she didn’t feel quite as indifferent about being a mommy as she had before. Her mother and father had a long, private discussion out in the hallway and then came back into her hospital room. “We’ve prayed on this,” her mother said, “and we have decided it’s God’s will that we put the second baby up for adoption. The doctors don’t know exactly what health problems the poor little child could develop, and we can’t afford to give her the proper—” “Whatever,” Eleanor said, and looked away. * * * The day after Eleanor came home from the hospital, she wasted no time in packing her suitcase. Her father was at work and her mother and grandmother were so busy fussing with the new baby they didn’t even notice when she slipped out the back door about dinner time. She left a note under her pillow that simply said, I’m done with this family, and I’m leaving. Don’t try to find me. - Eleanor. She had arranged for Owen to pick her up in his mom’s car and drive her to the Greyhound station. The bus for New York City left at 8:30. They spoke very little during the ride downtown. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” he said, after he parked and pulled her suitcase from the trunk. “I’m sure.” As Eleanor took in the scruffy crowd of people milling around, waiting for busses, she began to get cold feet. Owen followed her inside the terminal and she bought her ticket, which cost $54.00. She had told Owen her “plan,” which was that she was going to go to New York and live with her aunt and become an actress. The first part was a lie—she had no aunt or any other family in New York, but the second part wasn’t. How hard could it be to get a job as an actress, at least in some commercials? She was pretty, if not beautiful, and despite just giving birth to twins she had managed to keep her slim figure. In a couple of weeks she would look perfect again. And what was acting, anyway? Nothing more than being a good liar, and she was very accomplished at that. She had been “acting” ever since she could remember. At least she could get some a role in a shampoo commercial or something. With all those advertising agencies on Madison Boulevard or whatever it was called, she would surely get a job pretty fast. “I’ll miss you,” Owen said, hugging her awkwardly just before she boarded the bus. “Me, too,” she said. He was really her only friend. Wiping away the one and only single tear that she’d shed in years, she climbed up into the bus, wondering if she would ever see him again. Chapter 1.5 After telling Jayne and Celeste her painful story, Eleanor collected herself before gazing intensely at both of them. “Celeste, Jayne, you two are my life. I am sorry for the horrible human being my father was, but I can’t undo it. Now it is up to us—up to you—to forget the past and create a brighter future.” Her plea tugged at Jayne’s heart strings. Jayne looked across the table at her twin sister. Their gazes locked. A silent message passed between them, and Jayne could feel that some kind of connection had been established. Neither of them was alone anymore. Chapter 1.6 How wonderful it was for Jayne to get to know her twin sister! She and Celeste had hit it off immediately, each stumbling over her words in their eagerness to learn about the other. “What’s your favorite color?” “What kind of music do you like? “Who’s your favorite movie actor? “What’s your zodiac sign?” This last question, stated by Celeste, stopped them both in their tracks. “Libra, of course!” she added, giggling, “Duh—your sign is the same as mine!” They talked all night, and they were crazy about each other. Celeste confided that she had felt the deep sense of longing for a sister, just like Jayne had, but she’d always wanted a younger sister. Now they both understood why—they had lost each other at birth after spending nine months together in the womb! However, it soon became clear that they were quite opposite in many ways. “Who are your favorite authors?” Jayne asked. Celeste hesitated. “Who are yours?” “Hemingway, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy...” “Uh…yes, I like them, too. Also Charles Dickens.” Jayne had the feeling Celeste wasn’t much of a reader, or a student, either, based on what Eleanor had said. “What’s your favorite thing in the world to do?” “Oh, I love going to parties!” Celeste gushed. “And throwing them, too!” Jayne smiled and nodded. The truth was, she had always been a bit introverted and preferred to be on her own. At parties, she was always a wallflower. There were more differences, some as subtle and insignificant as their favorite foods, others more pronounced. Another favorite activity of Celeste’s was “driving fast cars.” Jayne could barely operate a stick shift. She marveled at how differently the two of them had developed, growing up on opposite sides of the world and in obviously contrasting lifestyles. After they’d eaten a light breakfast, also catered in, Celeste took her outside and led her down to the beach. It was beautiful and isolated, with fine white sand and clusters of palm trees. Jayne would have loved to have gone for a swim, but Celeste said she didn’t like swimming in the sea – “Too salty, makes your skin and hair all sticky.” They came back and walked around the villa’s grounds. The gardens were in dire need of attention, as Eleanor had said, with weeds sprouting up everywhere. Celeste didn’t seem to notice. They passed a small barn and corral. There were no horses in sight, though. Jayne loved horses. “Do you ride?” she asked Celeste. “Ride? A motorcycle, you mean?” Jayne smiled and motioned back to the barn, having to crane her neck to see it now because Celeste was pulling her along so fast. “No, I meant horses.” “Oh, not really. My father loved horseback riding and hunting, was into the outdoors and camping and all that.” Celeste shrugged. “My idea of roughing it is staying in a four star hotel with no indoor pool.” Jayne laughed, but she was a little disappointed. She loved nature and outdoor sports. Before she had taken extra shifts at work to support her mother’s chemotherapy, she had regularly gone on bicycle tours or simply enjoyed long hikes through the parks. When she had been young, she had loved going to the Sedgwick County Zoo and the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita. Her most treasured childhood memories were of hours spent mesmerized among animals and plants. The Tanganyika Wildlife Park was still vivid on her mind, and she opened her mouth to tell Celeste about it, but then realized her newfound sister probably wouldn’t be interested. “Come on, let’s go hang out at the pool!” * * * Jayne’s mind was so full with all the new impressions that not even talking for hours and enjoying the Mediterranean sun made her feel like relaxing. As they lounged by the poolside, Jayne glanced over at her sister, whose head was bent over her tablet computer, checking out the latest high society gossip. Jayne almost felt ugly or at least pathetically unspectacular next to her twin sister. Dressed in a turquoise bikini that perfectly brought out her tan, with her fashionably short hair which sported a few blonde highlights, Celeste looked like the models in the fashion magazines. Jayne glanced down at her own plain, black-and-white bathing suit, and her body, which looked ghastly white compared to Celeste’s evenly tanned one. She wished she were more like her sister. Celeste was also on the slender side, like Jayne, but she had curves in all the right places and looked more feminine, Jayne thought. In fact, her body was much more rounded though still slim. Was that a tiny bit of stomach she could see, probably from all the caviar and champagne and canapés? One interesting difference was that Jayne had a small birthmark on the inside of her right ankle. Celeste had an almost identical birthmark, but it was on the inside of her left ankle. It was like they were mirror images of each other. As if she had sensed Jayne staring, Celeste glanced up and smiled brightly. Her perfect thirty-two tooth smile was an exact copy of her mother’s. It flashed on and off so easily, as if she had practiced it in front of a mirror countless times and could now simply turn a switch to present it to the cameras of the world. “What are you thinking?” Celeste said. Jayne blushed. “Just how beautiful you are.” Celeste leaned over and patted Jayne’s knee. “Thank you for saying that, darling. I work hard to look like this. All those manicures, pedicures, skin treatments, makeup sessions, and magical creams. I don’t know where I’d be without them.” Jayne winced. Another item to add to their list of differences. Jayne wore very little makeup and liked a natural, earthy look. She thought she was pretty enough, and fit enough, to get away with it. But these differences were minor—Jayne loved all the similarities the two of them had discovered. Both were creatively inclined, although admittedly interior design and fashion design were two different pairs of shoes. Their favorite color was yellow, they hated spiders, they enjoyed watching comedies on television, and they preferred Latin music over rock or hip-hop. Jayne’s thoughts turned to the spectacular wedding that Celeste would be having soon. Celeste hadn’t said a word about it, which Jayne found surprising. Last night, Eleanor had mentioned how wonderful it would be for Jayne to be there, too, and Celeste had agreed, though without as much enthusiasm as Jayne would have liked. Celeste had seemed a bit aloof. Jayne hoped she wasn’t ashamed of her. Almost as if she’d read Jayne’s thoughts, Celeste said, “You know, I have half a mind to experiment with your face for a bit. With a little touch here and there, maybe some mauve and cream accents, you might even look more stunning than me.” Jayne smiled. “Do you really think so?” “Definitely. And I really have to take you shopping one of these days. I’ll need new dresses soon, and you could do with some glamming up. I could doll somebody else up for a change.” * * * Jayne did not sleep well that night. Although she and Celeste had certainly hit it off, and she already felt very close to her twin sister, she tossed and turned, some of Celeste’s comments running back and forth through her mind. The truth was, Celeste had hurt her feelings. Perhaps unknowingly, but the hurt was the same. The first time it happened was when she said that Jayne “might” look even more stunning than her, with the right makeup, expensive skin treatments, and designer clothes. Of course Jayne would look at least as equally stunning as Celeste with the same treatment—they were identical twins! It was the implication that Jayne was somehow inferior to her in some basic way. That stung. But what hurt even more was that Celeste had not asked a single word about Jayne’s life, about her mother, her friends, about growing up in Kansas, her education, her romantic life—nothing. Every syllable that came out of Celeste’s mouth was self-centered and concerned her own glamorous life, and it was clear that Celeste thought her life was indeed glamorous, and to be envied by all. It was as if she assumed that everyone on earth longed to be filthy rich and a part of “high society” like she was, and that anyone in their right mind would instantly change places with her, no questions asked, given the opportunity, and that included Jayne. Especially Jayne. Apparently Celeste thought her twin sister came from a dull, hopelessly boring and ordinary place—Kansas—and, worse, poor old Jayne had to actually work for a living. Jayne wondered if she would really change places with Celeste, or with another rich debutante like her, if she had the chance. She wasn’t sure. Money did not buy happiness—anyone with a half a brain knew that. For those who doubted it, a quick perusal of the tabloids on any given day of the week, with the suicides, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic abuse, jealousy-driven murders, and other scandals among the rich and famous would put the question to rest. Of course, Jayne did not enjoy life at the other end of the spectrum. Being financially strapped, especially to the extent she was experiencing due to her mother’s cancer treatments, was incredibly taxing. It took so much energy to constantly worry about every penny she spent, about a stain on her clothes because she couldn’t afford to buy anything new, to constantly search for bargains and purchase virtually everything with coupons or on sale, using inferior products, and so on. She thought all that energy could be put to much more productive use if she weren’t so broke. Jayne had once seen a quote that had stuck in her mind: Money doesn’t buy happiness, but I would prefer to cry in a mansion. She thought there was a lot of truth in that line. She finally managed to fall into a deep sleep at about 4 a.m., but was still troubled by all these thoughts, even in her dreams. * * * Jayne woke up the next morning with the sun streaming in one window, and in a much better mood. She quickly dressed and opened the French doors that led out onto the balcony. She had to stifle a gasp as she gazed out across the lush property, across the pool, to the glittering blue sea. The colors were as vivid and electrifying as an oil painting. The Mediterranean looked perfectly calm this morning, like a slowly undulating sheet of liquid glass. The sky was clear, a deep azure. And the air...it smelled like heaven. She paused, looking at the marble statue nearest her window—it was a work she knew, Venus de Milo. The striking, feminine face, the curly hair, and of course the trademark missing arms, were unmistakable. The statue was a copy, of course, but she had seen the original in the Louvre and had never forgotten it. What a world she had entered! She quietly went into the kitchen and made herself some coffee, telling herself to stop dwelling on the negatives and focus on the positives. Carrying the cup out to the terrace, she reminded herself how much she and her twin sister had in common, and how lucky she was to have a twin in the first place, and for them to have found each other at last. Shortly after Jayne sat down, Celeste appeared out of nowhere. “Good morning, sister!” she gushed, and slipped her arm around Jayne’s shoulder. She gave Jayne a warm kiss on the cheek. “Can you ever forgive me?” Jayne was surprised. “For what?” “For being such a self-centered bitch!” Celeste groaned, and tumbled in the chair next to Jayne, shamefully holding her hands to her face. “I realized this morning that I babbled my head off about myself all last night and didn’t ask a single question about you! How rude can a person be? I’m so sorry, Jayne.” Jayne could have cried, and almost did. “It was fascinating to hear about your life, Celeste, and you were so excited to meet me. I understand.” Celeste grinned, looking greatly relieved, and she eyed Jayne’s coffee. “As soon as I have my caffeine fix, you have to tell me your whole life story! I mean all of it—I want all the juicy details!” * * * Celeste listened with rapt attention as Jayne told her about her own life, which admittedly did sound a bit dull in comparison to Celeste’s. But her twin interrupted with question after question. At first, Jayne thought Celeste might be merely pretending to be interested to make up for yesterday’s faux pas, but she seemed genuinely enthralled by everything Jayne said. “You never suspected you were adopted?” she asked, when Jayne shared the story about being told that on her sixteenth birthday. “No, I never had the slightest idea.” “How did it make you feel?” Jayne shrugged. “When my mom told me, it didn’t seem real to me, like an interesting fact about my family tree, but nothing more.” She paused, smiling. “Now, if she’d told me that I had a twin sister living out in the world somewhere, I would have jumped for joy and stopped at nothing to track you down!” Celeste smiled, looking touched. “You’re so sweet, Jayne.” Eleanor stepped out onto the terrace. She’d been busy all morning, lining up interviews for servants to hire for the villa. Celeste glanced at her mother. “Isn’t she a darling, Mother?” “She certainly is,” Eleanor said. She seemed delighted that her daughters were getting along so well, but she also seemed distracted. She had an open notebook in her hand and was peering at it through her reading glasses. “Hiring competent domestics these days is just about impossible—nobody wants to get their hands dirty anymore!” Eleanor turned the page of her notebook, shaking her head. “I’ve been making calls all morning to the agencies, and all I have to show for it are four interviews! One housekeeper and one cook are coming tomorrow, and another pair the day after.” She sighed to herself. “I may have to call some directly from the classifieds.” Eleanor said the word “classifieds” in a tone that seemed lower than low. When Eleanor stepped back inside the house, Celeste gave Jayne an odd gaze, a twinkle in her eye. She whispered wickedly, “And what about boys—the opposite sex? You haven’t said a word about them, sister dear.” Jayne let out a little groan, then spoke in a low tone. “Things haven’t worked out too well in that department.” She told Celeste about Nathan. “You’re so lucky you have Robert. It’s so hard to find the right person—at least, for me.” Celeste looked away, gazing out over the sea. “I suppose so.” “Have you picked out your wedding dress yet? I’m curious what you’re going to wear on your special day.” Did Celeste seem a little aloof again, or was Jayne simply imagining things? “No darling, it’s too soon for that. And besides, I’m sure mother has already consulted some designers.” “Oh.” Jayne felt a little flustered—she really had no idea how these fancy social events worked. “Robert’s mother is thrilled with the whole affair, too,” Celeste went on. “She’s got a fetish for organizing events, like Mother, and I have a feeling she’ll want to have a say in the wedding dress.” “I see.” Jayne considered this for a moment. “But what would you like? It’s your wedding, and you’re a fashion designer after all. What do you think would make you look most beautiful?” This time, Celeste’s smile was indulgent and her tone a little patronizing. “Jayne, it isn’t as easy as that. The wedding gown has to be matched with countless details, from the tiara and veil, to the shoes and the bouquet. Plus, there will be an overall theme, and we need to keep in mind the current trends. The colors, the motto, the venue, all of it will play into the choice.” “Well, sorry, I’m no expert.” “Personally, I like the gown Princess Victoria of Sweden chose when she married Daniel Westling. It’s not one of those embellished, uncomfortable affairs but full of charm and silky grandeur, all in one piece. I love those small sleeves and the sash at the waist.” Jayne merely nodded, and a little coldly. She had no idea what said princess had worn for her grand occasion, and frankly, she didn’t care. Europe and its royal families were as far away from her life as Australia and its kangaroos, and just as exotic. “Well, what about Robert? Will he also have a say in all the wedding plans?” Celeste’s laughter rang sweetly, although it was decorously hidden behind her hand. “No, Jayne. The groom is usually happiest if he’s kept totally out of everything. It’ll be tedious enough for him to wear a suit and remember what to do and say at what time. Anyway, he’s going to be in China the whole year, managing the building of a new factory over there, he’s far too busy to get involved.” Celeste’s face grew more serious than she had seen it in the past hours. “To be honest, I don’t think he’s all that hyped up about the wedding. Neither am I.” The last sentence was spoken in hardly more than a whisper, as if she were talking to herself or afraid of being overheard by Eleanor. Jayne was taken aback by this. “But why?” Celeste just sat there for a long time, without speaking, gazing out at the sea again. “I, um…there’s something I have to talk to my mother about.” With that, she got up and walked towards the pool. “Come on, let’s enjoy another dip. I’ve been so holed up in the big cities—first Paris and then Berlin for the Fashion Week, and then Milan for some shopping—I could really do with more R&R right now.” Chapter 1.7 “You did what? Tell me it isn’t true! Please God, tell me it isn’t true!” Jayne was so startled by the shout that she dropped the traveler’s guide to France she had been reading the past hour. She was in the guest bedroom, and Jayne and Eleanor were in the master bedroom, at the far end of the villa. The house had been dead silent until a moment ago. “I can’t believe you kept this a secret from me, how dare you!” Was that Eleanor shouting? Jayne would never have thought she’d hear that cultured voice raised in such a scolding and shocked tone. She wondered if Eleanor could be talking to someone on the phone…but there was a muttered answer she couldn’t make out. It sounded like Celeste’s voice. “For God’s sake!” Eleanor screamed. “Have I raised you like a princess only to have you behave like a sl...” It sounded like Eleanor had said “slut,” but Jayne wasn’t sure. The word was a slap across Jayne’s face, so out of place in these cultured, opulent surroundings. She stood up, her heart beating faster. What on earth was going on? Her feet automatically carried her out of her room and down the corridor toward the sounds of distress. Jayne was much too curious and startled to care if eavesdropping was anything but ladylike behavior. Stopping just short of Eleanor’s room, she waited for the next outburst that came soon enough. “You couldn’t wait a few more months and had to give in to some barfly.” Eleanor’s voice had returned to a more normal volume and Jayne could not hear the rest. But the tone was ice cold and had a cutting edge to it that made even Jayne duck defensively. She could hear Celeste more clearly. “It wasn’t like that, Mother. You make me sound so desperate.” Her voice faded and then resumed. “It was just that he was such a cool guy, and I had been feeling so lonely—not that you’d care for that, you were already way too busy with fantasizing about the wedding.” “Don’t you dare turn this on me, young lady!” If at all possible, Eleanor’s tone grew even icier. She pronounced each word sharply and vehemently, as if she wanted to carve it into wood or etch it into stone. “Do not for one moment pretend any of this is my fault. You are a young woman with your own free will, and apparently with a rampant…as well.” Jayne missed the one word, but it sounded like “libido.” Does this mean what I think it means? Jayne wondered. It sounded like her twin sister had chosen to have a fling with another man while the wedding to Robert loomed so close. Had Robert found out about it, or what? “Mother, stop insulting me. It’s too late now, anyway.” “Don’t you ‘mother’ me! You have ruined it all, can’t you see?” It sounded like Eleanor had burst into tears, but Jayne wasn’t sure. There was a scraping sound as if somebody had jumped up from a chair. She realized it was Eleanor pacing around the room in the high heels she wore even inside the villa. “I can’t understand how you can be so reckless,” Eleanor said, sniffling. “How can you destroy such a beautiful union, and with your childhood sweetheart? How can you sacrifice a happy future for the sake of one night of…” So it had only been a one-night stand. Jayne wondered why that would enrage Eleanor so much. Were the uber-rich that conservative? When Celeste answered, Jayne could hear the unshed tears in her voice. “I know it was stupid, but I didn’t mean for this to happen. Believe me, I used protection.” Jayne gasped, holding her hand over her mouth to stifle it. Celeste had gotten pregnant. No wonder she’d been dodging the subject of the wedding. And no wonder Eleanor was so upset. Jayne quickly backtracked down the hall, sorry that she’d eavesdropped, and fled to her own bedroom. She felt sick. Chapter 1.8 Outside, the Mediterranean sun was burning as brightly as ever. Inside, storm clouds were gathering. Jayne felt as if the book of fairytales had been closed with a resounding snap, and another laden with scandal and drama had opened. Last night’s fight between her sister and mother had enveloped and smothered them all, in the same way the white sheets turned the furniture into ghosts. Neither Eleanor nor Celeste had turned up for breakfast, which Jayne had prepared in an attempt at normalcy. Hours had gone by without either of her newfound family members showing their faces. Jayne now felt like an intruder more than a guest. What could have been the holiday of her life, and a chance at getting to know Eleanor and Celeste, had turned into a nightmare. Finally, unable to stand the silence any longer, Jayne took up the household chores that should have been a servant’s task. There were dishes to wash, withered potted plants to water, shutters to open, and a front porch to sweep. Staying active helped relieve the tension, but her thoughts kept circling around the shocking revelation. At lunchtime, hunger apparently drove Celeste into the kitchen, where Jayne was frying eggs and chopping tomatoes and basil for a French-style salad. “Celeste,” she said sympathetically. She abandoned the oven and rushed to her twin’s side. How strange that she had known this young woman for only a day but was so worried about her. There was no trace of the million-dollar-smile when Celeste sat down at the table. She wrung her hands. “I guess you know what happened...” Jayne pulled out a chair to sit down next to her twin. “I overheard some of what was said and put two and two together. I’m sorry.” With a heavy sigh, Celeste slumped in her seat, looking anything but poised and elegant. “Oh my, I’ve spoiled your first impression of me, haven’t I?” “No, of course you haven’t.” Jayne tentatively reached out and stroked her sister’s arm. She might agree with Eleanor that what Celeste had done was reckless and could destroy her future, but instinctively, she felt she had to side with her twin in this dilemma. “What’s going to happen with…you know, Robert and the wedding?” she asked. Celeste stared bleakly into space. “We’ll have to cancel it, of course.” With a mirthless smile, she added, “The wedding of the decade, ruined by the blunder of the century.” “Is it really that bad?” “Believe me, this is a total disaster. Mother is devastated. And I don’t even want to think about Robert’s reaction.” Celeste shivered before she had herself under control again. “He’s such a wonderful person, he doesn’t deserve this, Jayne. His parents will be devastated, too.” Jayne felt extremely sorry for her sister, although a small voice inside her head kept insisting it was all Celeste’s fault. A strangled sound escaped her twin, who was still dressed in last night’s clothes. “How am I ever going to face them? How am I going to face the rest of the world? The media, Jayne...you have no idea. Those people are ruthless. When they get their hands on this story, they’ll make me look like the Whore of Babylon.” Celeste hid her face in her hands, crying her heart out, while Jayne sat there in helpless silence, stroking her arm. When the sobs had subsided, Jayne asked timidly, “Are you sure there’s nothing you can do about it? What if you confess your mistake to Robert—won’t he understand?” “He would never understand! I can’t very well expect him to raise someone else’s child, can I? Pregnant at the wedding, from a one night stand with a stranger? Oh my god, it’s unimaginable! Robert will dump me the moment he finds out and he’ll never speak to me again. Ever!” Jayne thought about the obvious solution to the problem, not understanding why Celeste didn’t seem to ever consider. “You could always, you know…” Jayne searched for a delicate way to put it. “…have the pregnancy terminated.” Celeste’s head snapped up. Eyes wide, she stared at Jayne as if she had suggested murder. “I could never have an abortion!” “I’m sorry,” Jayne backpedalled. “I was just suggesting all possible solutions, I didn’t know you felt so strongly about it.” She was actually surprised by her sister’s reaction. Celeste seemed so carefree and independent and practical. It seemed to Jayne if anyone was the type to consider an abortion in a situation like this, Celeste was. “I want this baby, Jayne! It’s not the child’s fault that I was so stupid and got pregnant without a husband.” Celeste clenched her hands into fists, determination for once overriding her despair. “I could never bring myself to kill the new life forming inside me, it would be so…barbaric. And besides, it’s too late for that anyway.” Celeste wiped her tears and looked as if she were trying to pull herself together. “Mother wants me to visit a specialist and see whether it’s really out of the question—but I can’t believe she can even suggest such a thing…especially after what she just told us about her own pregnancy with us! And I can’t believe you would suggest it, either. If Mother had done that, neither of us would even be here!” “I’m sorry,” Jayne said. “You’re absolutely right, I was just throwing out possibilities, I wasn’t thinking.” Celeste grabbed her hand and squeezed it so hard that Jayne flinched. “You understand me, don’t you? It’s so horrible to think of my little baby being torn from me. I absolutely must have it, there’s no other decision I could live with.” “I understand, I really do. But what happens after you’ve had the baby? Without a husband by your side, and with everybody watching, how will you take care of it?” Celeste pulled an embroidered silk handkerchief from her skirt pocket and wiped her face and hands dry. “I don’t know. I’ll probably give it up for adoption, the way Mother did it with you. I can’t see myself as a single mom somehow.” Jayne thought the words lacked any conviction. It was clear to her that Celeste intended on keeping the baby, no matter what it might cost her or her family, socially. Jayne swallowed hard, gazing at her poor twin sister with eyes puffy from crying. It looked like history was going to repeat itself. “Oh God,” Celeste blurted. “I can’t lie to you, Jayne.” “What do you mean?” Celeste swallowed hard, a shameful expression on her face. “The real reason I can’t have an abortion is that I’ve already had one. In college. Mother doesn’t know about it. It was done too late in the term, and it did not go well. The doctor told me if I ever had another one, I won’t be able to have children. Ever.” Fresh tears rolled down Celeste’s cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” Jayne said, hugging her. “I had no idea.” Celeste composed herself, pulling away. “I just don’t understand Mother. She was in the same situation that I’m in now, and she was even younger than me at that time. How could she want me to have an abortion? It makes no sense.” Jayne murmured, “It’s all such a shock for her. Give her some time to get her thoughts straight. I’m sure she’ll find a way to make things work.” A glimmer of hope stole itself into Celeste’s bloodshot eyes, her blotted mascara running in rivulets down her cheeks. “Do you think so?” Before Jayne could answer, an acrid smell reached her nose. “The eggs!” With a curse, Jayne jumped up and ran to the oven. The burning fried eggs were turning into a crisp black mass sticking to the pan. Jayne whisked the pan off the stove and took it over to the sink, afraid that Eleanor would come in any moment to scold her about invading their house and ruining their expensive kitchen utensils. “Turn off the stove!” she called to Celeste. Her sister stepped over to it but just stood there, staring at the controls, looking confused. She reached for the knobs uncertainly and then withdrew her hand. Jayne rushed over and switched off the gas. “Don’t you even know...?” she asked but stopped herself. Celeste had already told her she didn’t even know how to “turn on a stove.” Ever since college she had been living in hotel suites, having all her meals at restaurants or simply calling room service, but Jayne had not taken the comment literally. Jayne finished cleaning the pan while Celeste sat back down at the table. She watched Jayne passively, with a forlorn expression, looking miserable, lost in thought. Trying to keep her voice light, Jayne said, “What would you like to eat? I’ll rustle up anything you want.” Celeste made a face. “Don’t look like that. You really need to eat something, you have to make sure your baby gets enough nourishment.” At the mention of her baby, Celeste seemed to regain a little of her spirit. “You’re right. Do you suppose you could make some fish? I’ve never even liked fish, but being pregnant has given me some strange cravings.” Jayne smiled at her with affected brightness, realizing she had learned this seemingly impossible art within less than a day. “Sure.” She wondered whether the odor of frying fish would make Eleanor appear, but the lady of the villa remained nowhere to be seen. She also wondered: What was going on Eleanor’s mind? Chapter 1.9 Now, an entire day had passed under the shadow of the dark cloud. The interviews for the housekeeper and servant positions had been cancelled. Whenever Jayne met Celeste or Eleanor inside the villa, she felt fingers of steel clamp around her heart and squeeze until it became difficult to breathe. Red-rimmed eyes and hoarse voices spoke of hours spent crying, and a sleepless night spent thinking. Although each of them talked to Jayne and sometimes even made an effort to be nice, they avoided each other’s company. Celeste kept insisting how much she regretted that one moment of temptation, and how she wished she had her mother’s support in handling her unexpected pregnancy. Eleanor kept moping about how she hadn’t brought her daughter up with all the riches and guidance one could wish for to have her destroy everything so carelessly. She moaned about not being able to look her old friends, Robert’s parents, in the face, and about losing her social standing if anybody caught wind of her daughter’s one-night-stand with such dire consequences. Jayne understood them both, and felt terribly sorry for them. Whichever way you looked at it, there was a long road of suffering ahead. She felt like an outsider, and helpless to do anything about the situation, as powerless as she felt about her mother’s cancer. She was only supposed to stay one more day—her plane ticket back to the States was for tomorrow. She could probably change it, though, for an earlier flight. Looking at her half-unpacked suitcase, she made a decision. She’d ask Eleanor whether she should leave. This was not the time to go sightseeing with Celeste or catch up on more than twenty years of a separate past. Just when she had made up her mind on how to word her question, she heard raised voices again. “For the umpteenth time, Celeste, it doesn’t do to just sit there and blame things on bad luck. For once, you need to act in a responsible way. If you had let me take the reins, this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t you see you need to leave the matter to me? I know how to handle this.” “But, mother, it’s my life. I—” “Yes, a life you have ruined once and forever. If you really love your life so much, do as I say!” Jayne felt her stomach knot in worry. What would happen now? Were they in for another shouting match? What if one of them lost their calm and said something they’d regret for the rest of their life? Before she knew it, she was out of her room and covering the distance to Eleanor’s room in long, quick strides. She had decided it was best to fly back and leave them to their trouble just a moment ago, but now her gut told her that she’d never be a part of this family if she didn’t at least try to help, to do something, suggest something—anything. Jayne knocked at the door, and the silence that greeted her was stone cold. “Come in,” Eleanor said after what felt like an eternity. Inside the room, Celeste cowered on the bed while her mother stood by the window, rigid and red-eyed. Both of them were a picture of misery, and it tore at Jayne’s heart. “Please…please don’t fight,” she begged, hating it that there was nothing more substantial she could say or do. She felt like an outsider, like a guest in the house who was butting into something that was clearly none of her business. Almost at the same time, both women spoke. “Jayne, tell Mother that I can’t undo what’s been done.” “Jayne, tell Celeste that she needs to see how unforgiving the consequences of her behavior are.” She was caught in the middle. Hesitantly, Jayne walked over to the bed and sat down next to her sister. She draped an arm around her shoulder, but kept her gaze locked on their mother. “What can we do about this?” Jayne said softly. The “we” slipped out without her will, but it felt natural. It felt right. Eleanor started pacing. In her wrinkled black dress and with her face swollen from crying, she looked like a shadow of herself, as if she had aged several years overnight. “It’s a hopeless situation. As soon as Robert and his family and the rest of the world know, it will be splattered all over the tabloids. There’ve been articles in all the important magazines, and interviews are scheduled for the next few months, which of course will have to be cancelled.” Shaking her head at the sheer immensity of the problem, she added, in an even darker voice, “The whole world knows about the wedding plans—and what’s worse, the whole world is waiting for a chance to see us go down. The Astors and the Sothebys are such influential people, Jayne. We have so many haters who jump on the tiniest of opportunities to show us in a bad light.” She motioned angrily to Celeste. “You should have known that, you’re not a baby anymore! I would have thought you would have learned your lesson in Saint-Tropez!” Jayne glanced at Celeste—she hadn’t heard about what had happened in Saint-Tropez, but she didn’t think this was the time to ask. Eleanor was working herself into another fury. She motioned angrily at Jayne. “Your twin sister has a wild streak which I’m so thankful that you lack.” She looked back at Celeste. “Your attraction to ‘bad boy’ types is going to lead you to a life of misery, mark my word!” “Mother—” “Do want to spend your life having some deadbeat for a husband, some loser who can’t even hold down a job? That’s what those exciting boys turn into when they get older! Believe me, I know.” “I’ll always have my trust fund,” Celeste said, with an air of haughtiness. “Ha!” Eleanor cackled, and it sent a chill up Jayne’s spine. “The kind of good-for-nothing men you’re attracted to will bleed you dry, darling, and you’re just the type to give in to all of their demands, to feel sorry for them, to open your checkbook again and again for their drinking and gambling and philandering and get-rich-quick schemes until you’ve been completely drained of every penny you have. You’ll end up destitute!” Jayne was shocked by this. Eleanor seemed almost hysterical now. Tears streamed down her cheeks, streaking her eye shadow. “Robert Astor is—was—the perfect man for you, and you just threw your future with him into the garbage. He may not be the most exciting person on earth, but he’ll always be there for you, he’ll stand by your side to your grave, and he’ll give you a life of comfort and luxury. I know him, and I know his family. Lord and Lady Astor are absolutely first class people in every way, and so is their son,” Eleanor sniffled, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. “After all I’ve worked for all my life!” Celeste just sat there, but she was breathing hard. Neither one spoke for a long moment. Finally, Celeste said, “Are you finished?” Eleanor composed herself, looking sympathetically at her daughter. “Can’t you accept even the tiniest possibility that I might know slightly more about men and marriage and relationships than you do? All I’m trying to do is save you from a lifetime of misery.” “I don’t love Robert, Mother!” Eleanor recoiled at this. “And I resent this arranged marriage!” “Arranged?” Eleanor looked at Jayne, then back at Celeste. “Are we in Pakistan?” Eleanor pointed out the window. “Does that look like Pakistan out there to you?” “Mother—” “It is not an ‘arranged’ marriage. That’s ridiculous! If anyone arranged it, you and Robert did. My god, all I heard from you for half your teenage years was how you were going to marry Robert Astor, it’s all you talked about.” “I was ten years old, Mother.” Eleanor stood perfectly still for a moment, gazing at her daughter. Slowly, she said, “Can you look me in the eye, Celeste, and honestly tell me that you don’t love Robert Astor?” Celeste glanced at Jayne, then looked back at her mother. “Of course I love him, but not in the way—” “Then that settles it.” Celeste’s face turned so red that it looked like her head might burst. At the top of her lungs, she screamed, “I’m not having an abortion!” Eleanor whirled around and stormed out of the room. * * * As soon as they were alone, Celeste went into another crying jag, and Jayne held her in her arms like a child. “I just don’t know what to do,” she said, her voice hitching with sobs. “I thought I would have more time to decide whether to marry Robert, and now it seems like I have to make the decision right this very minute.” “I don’t understand. I thought you were already engaged.” “We are engaged,” Celeste said, holding out her hand to show the ring, which sported a huge, sparkling diamond. “I didn’t take it that seriously, since the wedding was a year away. I figured I could always back out if I wanted to. And Robert could, too.” “You’re not in love with each other, then?” “In love?” Celeste looked up at Jayne’s face. “Hardly. But I do love him, and I know he loves me. You know, like family. We’ve known each other since I was ten and he was twelve.” “Oh.” Jayne hesitated, unsure of how to put the next question she wanted to ask. “Have you two ever…?” “No,” Celeste said quickly. “To be honest, it seems weird to imagine that. He seems kind of like a brother to me.” That was certainly weird, but Jayne understood the feeling. She had a cousin she felt that way about. “But are you attracted to him? You know, sexually attracted?” Celeste shrugged. “I guess so…I don’t know, Jayne. He’s not the hottest man in the world.” Jayne imagined some geeky little guy with thick glasses and a pot belly. She had to wonder why a beautiful and rich girl like Celeste would marry a man she felt so ambivalent about. As if her sister followed her thoughts, she said, “You don’t understand, Jayne. When you’re wealthy, and the entire world knows it, you just can’t trust anyone that you date unless they’re rich, too. The world is full of opportunists and gold diggers. Robert and I have both had some bad experiences, and we decided that marrying each other is the ‘safe’ thing to do, the prudent thing. Anyway, Mother is probably right—he’ll be a wonderful, loyal and dependable husband.” Celeste shed a few more tears. “Life is full of compromise, isn’t it? We can’t have it all.” Jayne wasn’t sure about that. As she held her twin sister in her arms, she racked her brain for a solution. “When is the wedding, exactly?” “In late September,” Celeste said miserably. Jayne counted the months on her fingers. “That’s in seven months. And how many months pregnant are you?” “Three,” she said, touching her abdomen. Jayne sat up suddenly. “But that gives you time, don’t you see? You could have the baby first and then you’ll still have a month to decide whether to put it up for adoption. You said he’s in China, right? If Robert never actually sees you….” “Good idea, but it won’t work. He’ll be coming back to visit a couple of times. Plus, we have to make some media appearances, do some charity work together.” They both looked at each other as if the bolt of lightening had struck at exactly the same time. “I can do it for you!” Jayne blurted. “I can cut my hair like yours and you can tell me what to say! I can pretend I’m you.” “Oh my god!” Celeste said. She stared at Jayne for a long moment, looking stunned. “I’ve got a double, and I didn’t even realize it!” They both began excitedly chattering about the possibility, but their enthusiasm was soon dampened by the harsh practicalities. Celeste pointed out that she would have to live in total isolation the entire time she was pregnant, that nobody could see her in that state, not even servants. And of course Jayne had to go back to Wichita to her job, to pay for her mother’s medical expenses. It did not seem like a workable plan. But they both kept talking about it. “You could stay here in the villa, though, couldn’t you?” Jayne said. “You and Eleanor could make up some excuse—she could tell people you were sick with some minor problem. Say, a bad case of the flu with pneumonia that required some months of bed rest.” “Yes, but what about the servants? Nobody could see me, Jayne, and servants are the last people you can trust. They gossip horribly.” “Are you talking about the cook and the housekeeper she’s planning to hire?” “Yes.” The idea hit Jayne full on, a perfect solution. “I can do those jobs! Both of them.” Celeste looked astonished. “You could be the cook and the housekeeper?” “Sure, why not? If your mother was willing to pay me what she intends to pay the other people she was planning to hire, I could stay here, no problem. I’m sure the salary would be at least as much as I’m making now.” Celeste began to look excited. “But are you sure, Jayne? I mean, to work as a servant for your own family?” “I’m American, Celeste, I don’t look at things that way. A job is a job.” The more they talked about it, the more enthusiastic they both became. “We’ve got to see what Mother thinks,” Celeste said, taking Jayne by the hand. “I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you show up in my life right now! This is awesome!” * * * When they sprang the idea on Eleanor, Jayne’s enthusiasm waned a bit. She had no idea how the woman would react to their scheme. And when she heard Celeste explaining it all, that’s exactly what it sounded like: a scheme, and not a very nice one. She hadn’t really considered how badly Robert would be deceived by all this. In any case, when Celeste finished, Eleanor merely looked from one daughter to another, her expression unreadable. She seemed momentarily lost in thought, as if considering all the angles. Her gaze finally settled on Jayne, and she looked puzzled. “You really wouldn’t have any problem working as a domestic here? For us? For your own family?” Jayne didn’t care for her mother’s use of the term “domestic”—it made the servants sound like robots—but she merely reiterated what she’d told Celeste, that to her, a job was a job. “I see,” Eleanor said. Now she began to look at Jayne as if seeing her in a new light, as if appraising her. Jayne could tell this wasn’t to assess how suitable she would be as a “domestic,” but rather to see if Jayne could pull off impersonating Celeste in the various required social situations. “Do you think I could do it?” Jayne blurted, feeling insecure under her gaze. “Of course you could do it,” Eleanor said, and she glanced at Celeste, who was also looking doubtful, too. “You two seem to forget that I wasn’t always the cultured and poised lady I am now—it’s something I had to learn, and so can you.” Eleanor paused a moment, thinking again. “It would be nice not to have to hire any outsiders this summer, it’s such a bother. And the garden be damned! It could just grow wild, because nobody would be coming to visit.” “So?” Celeste said impatiently. Eleanor looked back at Jayne with her appraising eye. “I will say the idea has potential.” To Celeste, she said, “It would certainly give you more time to come to your senses and see that marrying Robert is the right thing to do.” She looked sternly at Celeste. “Robert Astor comes from a fine family and would make an ideal—” “I don’t want to be lectured about that anymore,” Celeste snapped. Eleanor sighed, looking at her daughter as if she was hopelessly stubborn, and a little bit thick. She turned back to Jayne. “If you’re really willing to go to such lengths to help your sister, I’m willing to give it a try.” Chapter 1.10 The following day, Jayne returned to the United States, as originally planned. She had to break the news to her mother that she would be away in Europe for six months, and she dreaded it. But it was for the best, for everyone concerned. She hoped she could make her mother see that. Still, she was going to have to tell a fib or two, and she didn’t like lying to Barbara, or to anyone, for that matter. She had convinced herself that the scheme they had devised to give Celeste more time to make a decision about Robert and her baby was for a good cause and therefore a “white lie.” She hoped she could convince herself the same about what she was going to tell her mother. As she walked into the hospital’s main entrance and headed towards the elevator, her stomach gurgled with anxiety. The medicinal smells brought back a plethora of bad memories. Jayne hesitated just outside the door to the room, steeling herself, and then stepped in. Not having laid eyes on her mother for a few days brought the memory of the sickness back with a vengeance. More than ever, Jayne realized how breakable and small and helpless the prone body on the bed was. The stark contrast between the white sheets and the sallow skin sprang out at her. If she hadn’t known better, she’d have given up all hope at this gut-wrenching sight—but she had faith in the specialists taking care of her mother. For a moment the joy of seeing her mom again overshadowed her worries. Once more, she vowed to herself that she had to do everything possible to save this woman who was her life. Jayne rushed to the bed as her mother’s fragile form struggled to sit up in it. They hugged each other for what seemed like hours before Jayne stepped back to appraise her mom more closely and objectively. She thought Barbara Clark looked a little better than she had a few days ago. Her mom was trembling with the effort of sitting upright, but also smiling with happiness to have her daughter back. “I missed you!” They both blurted it out at the same time, and laughter lifted a corner of the veil of suffering. Looking more alert now, Barbara said, “Now be a darling, bring me some water, fluff up my pillow, and tell me all about your friend and your adventures in Europe.” Her eagerness to hear the news was sobering. Jayne did as she was asked, and pulled her chair close enough to hold her mother’s hand while talking. “I wouldn’t call it an adventure, Mom.” “Oh come on, France? Don’t tell me this week wasn’t full of new experiences for you.” Jayne felt a lump in her throat. New experiences. Yes, that was exactly what the days in France had brought her. And an entirely new family. She took a deep breath to steady herself. “Actually, I have something important to tell you, Mom. I wasn’t totally honest about the purpose of the trip.” Now her mother was frowning, and it made her haggard face look even older. Swallowing hard to force the lump down, Jayne hesitated. If Celeste or Eleanor were here, they’d know what to say. They had a way with words. “Jayne Clark, is this about a man? Did you fall into the trap of some filthy-rich gigolo who whisked you away to the other end of the globe?” The thought was so outrageous and Jayne was so keyed up she let out a giggle. “Mom! No, that isn’t it at all.” After another calming breath, she said in a shaky voice, “Remember my sixteenth birthday when you told me I was adopted?” “Yes, of course, how could I forget something like that? But why on earth do you bring it up now? I thought we had agreed to let the matter…oh, Jayne, don’t tell me you’ve started searching for your biological mother…please don’t tell me that.” “Actually, she found me.” “What?” Her mother’s voice was no more than a squeak of surprise. Now that the first step had been made, it was as if she had opened the floodgates. Jayne told her mother about the mysterious lady at the café, about that bizarre dinner date, and about the thrilling news that she had a sister. She tried to keep the enthusiasm out of her voice, but succeeded only partially. Staring at their joined hands on the bed because Jayne couldn’t look her mother in the eye, she talked about the invitation to France and about meeting Celeste. Jayne did not mention their riches or their high status in society. When Jayne dared to look up, she was astonished to see her mother neither angry nor sad, but in fact smiling a tearful smile at her. “Oh Jayne, I am so happy to hear that.” Jayne stared at her, dumbfounded. “Do you have any pictures?” she asked excitedly. Jayne pulled out her phone and showed her mother several pictures of Eleanor and Celeste, some together and separate and also posing with Jayne. “You and Celeste look exactly alike! It’s like I’m seeing double. And Eleanor…what a beautiful, poised woman. You have her eyes, Jayne.” “Really?” Jayne said, looking at the picture on the little screen. She didn’t see it. To Jayne, Eleanor and she looked nothing alike except that they were both tall. Barbara started crying. “Oh, Jayne, it’s a great relief to me that you’ll have somebody to take care of you if I…just knowing that you are not alone in the world will make things easier for me.” Jayne felt tears well up in her own eyes. “Don’t even say such things, Mom! Of course you’ll make it. You’re a fighter, and you’re getting the best medical treatment possible. I checked with the doctors today, and they told me you’re responding to the treatments. You look a lot better. Honestly.” “Well, it does seem like I’ve been feeling a little stronger these past couple of days.” They hugged again—Jayne was thrilled to hear her mother say that. But her mind wasn’t giving her any rest. Pulling back, she decided the time was ripe to share more. “I’m thinking of going back over to France, Mom. Eleanor and Celeste need me for a few months.” “Need you? What do you mean?” “What I told you about a wedding the first time was the truth. Celeste will tie the knot in Paris in a few months’ time, and she really wants me to be there.” “Oh, yes, of course! You must! But I don’t see why you have to go now.” Here come the lies, Jayne thought. “She’s pregnant, mom, and she’s got some sort of problem with the placenta, like Aunt Catherine had. She has to stay in bed every day for six more months, until she has the baby. She literally cannot move. They just found out about her medical condition when I was over there. Eleanor can’t stay home to take care of her, so they were going to hire a live-in caretaker to cook and clean and all that. So I volunteered for the job. They’re going to pay me a salary that’s almost twice what I’m making at Savor the Moment.” Barbara looked astonished. “So much money?” “It’s not so much money over there. France is expensive, Mom. Plus, part of the money comes from the government, social assistance.” More lies. “Oh.” Her mother hadn’t ever traveled outside of the United States, so Jayne was fairly sure she would buy it. “I know this is all very sudden,” Jayne said, stroking her mother’s hand, “but I think it’s a good opportunity.” Barbara’s eyes teared up momentarily but cleared again. “Of course it is, Jayne! And you have to take advantage of it. You can’t miss this chance to get to know your family better, to help your sister, and to learn more of the world. It’ll be such an experience.” Her eyes filled with tears again. “I feel so horrible about being such a financial burden on you—I’ll miss you, of course, but I have Catherine and my friends, and this seems like an ideal solution for everyone. I’m so glad Eleanor took the trouble to find you!” Jayne blinked and tried to come to terms with her mother’s reaction. It was the last thing she’d expected. She’d been prepared to argue about quitting her job here and moving so far away, assuring her mom that she would come back for frequent visits…but her mother took it all in her stride and seemed genuinely happy about it. When Jayne left the hospital later that evening, she almost wished her mother had tried to talk her out of it. Chapter 1.11 Eleanor Sotheby was standing in the garden of the villa, a long, heavy shovel slung over her shoulder. She was staring up into the soft face of Venus, or as the Greeks knew her, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. “Love,” she muttered. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure Celeste was not in sight—her daughter had walked down to the beach half an hour ago. And Jayne wouldn’t return until late this afternoon. She slid the shovel off her shoulder. Stepping back a little and taking aim, she swung the heavy implement in a broad arc with all her might, her face twisted into a grimace. It struck Venus in the left cheek with a metallic clang, sending a stiff vibration up both Eleanor’s arms. A chunk of marble the size of a peach slice went flying through the air and landed in the weeds. Dropping the shovel in the grass, Eleanor rummaged around in the weeds until she found it, then carefully placed it at the base of the statue. * * * A few minutes later, Eleanor was in the living room, and the security console buzzed, as she had expected. She went to the foyer and, after looking at the screen, pressed the button to open the gate. After a couple of minutes, there was a knock on the front door. She waited a moment, composing herself, then opened it. Standing before her, in his work uniform, was the manager of the gardening service she’d used for the past few years. His name was Jacques. He looked upset, even though he was trying to hide it. “Bonjour, madame,” he said, taking off his hat. “I am so sorry to trouble you with thees, but you do not answer my telephone calls so I am having no choice—” “What do you want?” she said coldly. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. It was a bill. “Madame Sotheby—” “Lady Sotheby,” she corrected. “Uh, oui, Lady Sotheby. Of course I only want to be paid for my work, like any businessman.” “Your work?” The latter word was tinted with sarcasm. “You and everyone who you employ are incompetent fools.” He frowned at this, looking offended. “Madame, we take great pride in what we do, and I can assure you—” “Go around to the back of the house,” she said, pointing. “I want to show you something.” She slammed the door in his face. A moment later, they met in the garden. He still had the bill in his hand. She led him over to the Venus de Milo statue, stepping through the weeds. “Look at her face!” she said, motioning to the statue’s head. He glanced up but didn’t seem to notice anything wrong. “Pardon?” Eleanor picked up the marble chip from the base of the statue and thrust it at him. “One of your incompetent field hands damaged a priceless work of art!” He took the chunk of marble, turned it over in his hand, and looked back at the statue. “You are certain of thees?” “Of course I’m certain!” Eleanor pointed angrily at the house. “I was standing right there in the living room and saw it happen. Your careless helper had his shovel slung over his shoulder, and when he turned around, it hit the statue in the head! He walked off and so I assumed no damage had been done, but the next morning I saw what had happened to her face, and I found this piece in the weeds.” “I am so sorry,” he said, handing the piece of marble back to her. “Perhaps it can be repaired….” “That statue is not a lawnmower, you moron! You can’t bolt it back together! It’s a rare piece of artwork that’s worth more than your yearly income. It’s ruined!” Eleanor feigned tears. “We have insurance—” “I’m not interested in your insurance,” Eleanor snapped, wiping her eyes. “Get off my property at once!” “But—” “If you ever have the audacity to contact me in any way, I can assure you that your company will never get another gardening contract in Nice. I will destroy your reputation. Do you understand me?” Jacques stood there a moment, then stuffed the bill in his pocket and angrily walked away. Chapter 1.12 Jayne looked at the white mass of clouds the airplane was chasing, and she felt light-headed. So much had happened in such a short span of time: Being tracked down by her real mother – check. Meeting her twin sister – check. Concocting the plan to double as her twin sister for six months – check. Making things right with her mother - check. Quitting her job at the café – check. Handing the keys of her apartment over to the new tenant – check. And now she was flying to Nice for the second time within a month, and she was filled with anxiety. It seemed a little like a confused dream, as if she’d wake up any moment and laugh at the bizarre scenarios her crazy mind had concocted. Jayne gave herself a mental shake. It wouldn’t do to get cold feet right now. Determined not to let her doubts and fears take the upper hand, she rummaged in her handbag and pulled out the book she had bought at the airport. How to Become a Lady in 10 Easy Steps Jayne stretched out in her seat, and immersed herself in the world of cocktail dresses, golfing, pearl necklaces, and tea parties. * * * “Jayne!” Celeste gushed. She stood in the doorway to the villa, dressed in a canary-yellow summer dress, smiling her signature toothpaste-commercial smile. Jayne felt her own lips lift in an answering smile. She glanced at the limousine driver who was unloading her baggage, and for a moment she wondered what he must be thinking. Funnily, she had opted for jeans and a canary-yellow blouse as her travel outfit, and she thought she must look almost like her sister’s mirror image. But of course the driver was not the same one who had delivered her to the villa last time. She assumed Eleanor must have made sure of that, for purposes of secrecy. The limo was from a service in Nice. Walking up the steps, Jayne returned her twin’s embrace. Jayne tried to behave in a relaxed manner, but something had occurred to her during the flight back to France, a concern she hadn’t thought about in the excitement of hatching their plan. Actually, two concerns...and both of them were awkward to broach. Celeste took her hand and led her to her room, chattering on about how she had missed her, and how their mother was coming up with endlessly long lists of things to teach her about how to fit into high society. After Jayne had unpacked, they went into the kitchen. On the way, she noticed the furniture was uncovered, the windows were dust-free, and the myriad of decorative vases had been filled with fresh flowers. It made the place look much more like a home. Eleanor must have been very busy these past few days, Jayne thought, because Celeste certainly wasn’t responsible. “Where’s Mother?” she asked. It felt a little strange to refer to Eleanor that way. “Here I am, my dear,” said a voice from behind her. Jayne turned around to accept another embrace. Eleanor had made lemonade, spiked with a little vodka, she added with a laugh, and she led them out onto the veranda. The glasses were waiting on the table. Sinking gratefully into one of the lounge chairs, Jayne hungrily took in the view of the ocean. The city of Nice had grown on her, although she had hardly seen any of it. Would she like Paris, too? She really couldn’t remember much from her high school graduation trip, it seemed so long ago. “You look less rested than last time,” Eleanor asked. “Is anything the matter?” “No, I’m fine. And I’m happy to see you again.” The truth was Jayne was squirming. The subjects she wanted to bring up were indeed delicate, and felt even more so now. She glanced from Eleanor’s serious countenance to her sister’s face, which morphed from happiness to worry within a second. Jayne decided to get the matter off her chest now. She plunged ahead. “It’s just…I was just wondering what my place would be in your lives after…I mean, after Celeste has the baby and makes whatever decision she makes.” Eleanor and Celeste exchanged a glance. “You are a part of our family, darling, and always will be, from now on. Of course you will have a place in our lives!” “But…how?” Jayne looked at Celeste. “We look exactly alike—I can never show my face around anyone who knows you.” “Nonsense,” Eleanor said, with a dismissive wave. “I will just go over to Kansas and ‘find’ you a little later than I actually did—say, six months after Celeste has her baby? No one will be the wiser.” Celeste nodded. “We discussed it while you were gone. And during that time, we can stay in touch with phone calls, emails, and letters. And we can come visit you in the States! We both want to meet your mother.” “Even though we’re blood relations,” Eleanor said, “I understand that you don’t know us well yet, Jayne, so I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to bring this up.” She smiled, her eyes sparkling. “I hope you’ll have faith in us.” “Of course I will. I do!” Jayne took a sip of the lemonade, glad it was spiked. She wouldn’t be losing her new family after all. Their assurances had lifted a huge rock off her chest and made it easier to breathe. Working up her courage again, she said, “There’s just one more thing I wanted to ask about?” “What’s that?” Eleanor said curiously. Jayne gave Celeste an uneasy glance. “I was just wondering, with Robert coming to visit and all, I’m assuming there might be times when we’re alone together, and—” “You’ll be well chaperoned at our home in Paris,” Eleanor cut in, “with all the domestic staff there.” She seemed to have anticipated Jayne’s question. “Robert wouldn’t make any advances, anyway,” Celeste said. “He’s a perfect gentleman.” She glanced at Eleanor. “Too perfect, if you ask me.” “Now Celeste….” “He is a bit of a square, Mother, even you have to admit that.” “Well, you’ll appreciate square when you get a little older, believe me.” Celeste rolled her eyes. “Anyway, Jayne, don’t worry about it. Robert will behave himself when you’re together. Trust me.” * * * Later that evening, when Jayne was in her room, Eleanor appeared at her door. “May I talk to you for a moment, darling?” “Of course,” Jayne said, placing the How to be a Lady book face down on the bed. “This is a bit awkward, and I didn’t want to discuss it in front of Celeste.” “Oh.” Jayne thought she knew what it was. They had not discussed how much she would be paid for doing the cook and housekeeper jobs. Eleanor sat down on the bed and put her arm around Jayne. “I’ve been thinking about the ‘salary’ to pay you, and I just can’t think of it that way. I would rather consider it a monthly allowance from the family, from me to you. Your twin sister has always had financial security, and I want you to have it, too—you rightly deserve it. So…let’s just make it an even five thousand euros a month to continue on past when Celeste has her baby. Until you’re married, let’s say?” Jayne was taken aback by this. “No, I could never—” “Don’t speak another word,” Eleanor said, putting her fingers to Jayne’s lips. “You are my daughter, you deserve a chance at a better life. Providing you with a stable financial basis is the least I can do. I’m well aware of how expensive Barbara’s medical treatments must be.” Part of Jayne wanted to refuse because it was just too much—but another part of her thought of the horrendous cost for the chemotherapy for her mother and told her to keep quiet. What use was it to look a gift horse in the mouth when this act of generosity would ease the financial pressure on her mother’s medical care? For the first time in the past few days, her heart felt lighter. “I…I don’t know what to say,” Jayne said. Eleanor chuckled. “In that case, I’ve found it’s best not to say anything.” “But I have to thank you, Mother! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” She hugged Eleanor. Her mother looked pleased. “There is one minor problem,” Eleanor said. “I will need to pay you in cash, unless we want to go through the complicated process of getting you a French work permit, which is a nightmare process that takes months. The easiest solution is that you can simply open a bank account here in France in your own name, at a branch in one of the nearby villages where nobody knows me or Celeste.” “That’s fine with me. Oh, thank you again so much!” Eleanor waved Jayne’s gratitude aside. She glanced at the book, How to Become a Lady, then rose and went to the door. “Goodnight, dear.” “Goodnight, Mother.” Only moments ago, Jayne had been sure she’d be unable to close an eye because she was so nervous about what was to come. But now she felt reassured, loved, and hopeful. This was truly her family, wasn’t it? She belonged here as much as she belonged to her adoptive mother. Putting the book aside, Jayne switched off the light and lay down on the bed. The moment her head hit the pillow, she was out cold, sleeping more soundly than she had slept in years. Chapter 1.13 “Simplicity is the utmost form of sophistication.” This statement by Eleanor caught Jayne’s attention. “That sounds so grand,” Jayne said, “and so paradoxical.” The three of them were standing in front of a mirror in the living room, assessing Jayne’s new haircut. She and Eleanor had just returned from a trip to a private one-man salon in Nice who had tried to make the cut exactly like Celeste’s and give it the appropriate highlights. It had been Jayne’s first time to pose as Celeste, though it wasn’t much of a challenge, as the hair stylist was a total stranger. Eleanor wanted it that way, of course. Maintaining absolute secrecy was crucial. They had given the stylist a photo of a model cut from a magazine to go by. Eleanor smiled, fiddling with Jayne’s hair and comparing it to Celeste’s. For the past few minutes she had been lecturing Jayne on the importance of appearance. “It is paradoxical, yet it isn’t. It’s actually a quote by Leonardo da Vinci, and it holds true for his works as much as for our life in high society. To an outsider, it might be all about grandeur and splendor, but what it boils down to is, we leave a lasting—and positive—impression because we keep things simple.” “Just not too simple,” Celeste chimed in, a hint of humor in her voice. Jayne was gazing at her image in the mirror—she felt like she was already transforming into her sister’s clone. “But none of the rich and famous people has ever struck me as simple,” Jayne said, intrigued by her mother’s theory. “What about all the jewelry, the shiny cars, the fancy clothes, the imposing homes?” Through the mirror, she could see Eleanor smile even wider. “Those trimmings are status symbols, and a must. In our case, keeping it simple doesn’t mean not living in luxury. It means knowing when enough is enough.” “You can say that again,” Celeste said. “Whenever I look at some of those garish, boorish tabloid celebrities, I feel like dying from sensory overload. Most of them haven’t got the slightest idea how to use what they are presented with, how to combine, and how to choose appropriately.” “Exactly,” Eleanor said with an approving nod of her elegant head. “To become more specific, Jayne, what we’re trying to tell you is that less is more. If you choose a magnificent gown, then the accessories should be unobtrusive. They should highlight and accompany the masterpiece and not compete for attraction.” That makes sense, Jayne thought. She had observed as much from how Eleanor and Celeste dressed. “Ladies are not born, they are made,” Eleanor went on. “The secret to being a real lady is that everything you do and say should appear perfectly natural to everyone else, and not put on. A real lady cannot be a snob. She can make the lowliest, ill-bred, uneducated person feel perfectly comfortable and instantly at ease in her presence.” Jayne supposed this was true, and certainly an admirable quality—but could she ever achieve it? Eleanor stepped back, admiring Jayne’s new haircut and glancing back and forth between the twin’s heads—she looked satisfied. It struck Jayne that this was all very much like a movie, or the story in a book. She was Cinderella, turning from the pauper into the princess. With her mother seeming like a queen to her at times, that was a perfect comparison. “And every lady should have a discerning taste and a wardrobe that holds the right piece for every occasion. Luckily you have Celeste’s figure, so you can use most of her clothes. Before I forget—how tall are you, my dear?” “Five foot nine.” “That’s strange,” Celeste broke in, stepping back to appraise the hair cut from all sides. “I’m an inch taller than you.” They frowned over that, and Jayne felt it was another minus point to add to her list. Maybe suffering from all those health problems as an infant had somehow stunted her growth? Eleanor’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Well, an inch isn’t something to worry about for now. We might have to give you shoes with higher heels, but I doubt it will matter much. Robert is a towering six foot two, so he’ll never notice the difference because you’re so much shorter.” Jayne raised her eyebrows. That was a surprise. She had imagined Robert being short and kind of pudgy, for some reason. She wanted to see a photo of him, but did not think it would be appropriate to ask. She hoped she would be well-coached to face him. “That reminds me—I think you’re a tad too slim, my dear. I want you to put on a pound or two to bring a healthier glow to your body.” Again, Jayne stared at her reflection. Why did she have to feel so ugly whenever they mentioned her looks? “Now, back on track,” Eleanor said. “In the closet of your room you’ll see that you now have an assortment of long and midi dresses and no minis. Showing too much skin is the wrong way to attract attention. Show just a little, and draw the eyes to it by accentuating it with the right piece of jewelry.” “And don’t forget about matching jewelry to the occasion, the dress, and your personality,” Celeste chimed in. “Pearls are always a safe option, but not for a summer look or a more casual party. Long earrings are great for sleeveless dresses, chokers too.” Clearly, Celeste was in her element when talking about anything fashion-related. She sounded enthusiastic more than instructive. Jayne tried to keep up with it all. “Do not forget the handbag,” Eleanor added. “Size, material, color, it all matters. We usually rely on various models in two colors, black and light or dark brown. These can be matched with almost all clothes. The same goes for shoes.” Feeling reluctant to do so, Jayne interrupted her. “I understand. But to be honest, I think I need to see all this to really grasp it.” There was silence for a moment, but luckily her comment met with approval. “She’s right, Mother. We’ll keep the style advice for later when we can show her the clothes and accessories we’re talking about. And I’ll lend her some of my fashion magazines to browse and draw inspiration from.” Jayne was glad she hadn’t stepped on anyone’s toes. Fashion had never been one of her great interests, but she could see how important it was if the world’s eyes were on her. For a moment, she wondered what Robert would wear. Was he the suits type? A slick dandy? A sporty gentleman? “Yes, we’ll wait on this until you have the wardrobe laid out in front of you,” Eleanor said. “Besides, there are more pressing matters. We can always rely on ourselves to pick out your outfits whenever it is necessary. Which reminds me that I need to meet with a few designers to exchange ideas on the wedding gown.” Eleanor typed something into her phone, and Jayne wondered how many things a woman like her mother needed to keep on her mind. She really had no idea what being Lord Sotheby’s widow was like. Were there business matters to deal with or did Eleanor have managers and directors for that? From where exactly did Eleanor get money? Did she make the social rounds all the time? So many questions! Jayne was glad they had months until things would become serious and she would meet Robert face to face. “Now, my dear, I want you to listen properly.” What important lesson would begin now? Jayne wondered. “More than clothes, manners make a lady. If you misbehave even once, it can have far-reaching consequences.” Jayne swallowed. Perfect, now she’d be tongue-tied for fear of saying something wrong. How on earth was she going to manage conversation? “Your most important step toward becoming a lady will be to master the rules of etiquette.” Eleanor let it sink in before smiling graciously but also a little condescendingly at her. “Any ideas what that will entail?” Jayne felt like a student facing an interrogation by a stern teacher. She wracked her brain for what to say, and blurted out the first thing on her mind. “Using the right cutlery during a banquet dinner?” Celeste hid peals of laughter behind her hand, but Eleanor remained serious. “Yes, indeed. We’ll have to teach you about all the knives, forks, and spoons, about which drink to order with what food, and about the five courses of a menu.” For once, Jayne felt a little relief flood her. Trying to keep the pride out of her voice, she said, “Actually, I know about that. It was a part of the job training when I started at Savor the Moment because they have an upper class clientele. We had to learn about how to lay a table and how the parts on it are used, about offering advice on wines and spirits, and about international cuisine. So you don’t have to be afraid that I’ll try sawing away at a steak with the blunt fish knife.” Celeste giggled again, and before she knew it, Jayne had joined in. Only now did she realize how much pressure she had been feeling. So much was expected of her, so much depended on her succeeding. Would there be sleepless nights ahead? The twins stopped laughing at the same time, catching their mother’s silent look of disapproval. Apparently, there was too much work to be done to allow for a little easing of the tension. And on top of that, Jayne had to start acting like a proper cook and housekeeper—tomorrow she planned on cleaning the entire villa from top to bottom, except for the unoccupied bedrooms, which Eleanor had closed off. Her mother said, “Jayne, you must know that you cannot leave the table during a meal, even if you’re desperate for a bathroom break. If you must, then excuse yourself after dessert has been served. Which, in England and much of Europe, is called ‘pudding.’” “Yes, I know.” “Also, never use your phone during meals,” Eleanor said, her tone a little cooler than before. “No texting, web surfing, or anything else—don’t even take it out of your purse, even if it rings. In that case, politely ask to be excused and call back in private.” She paused. “What else do you think you might need to know along these lines?” Eager to leave a better impression, Jayne gave her next answer more thought. “I’m not sure, but I think a woman is a lady to me if she keeps quiet. I mean, not gossiping, not criticizing all the time, and not being inquisitive should be the key.” The atmosphere in the room grew a few degrees warmer. “Very good, my dear. Speak only when you must. As the old adage goes, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Keep your personal life out of the conversation unless there is no choice or you are with Robert or a friend of the family.” “Speaking of that,” Jayne said, glancing at Celeste, “what about memories, special times, inside jokes, and all that?” “Don’t worry about it,” Celeste said dismissively. “I’ll fill you in on all the important stuff. I have tons of pictures of us together. Anyway, most of the ‘good times’ were before we were even teenagers, hanging around the villa here, and so it would be natural for your memory to be a little fuzzy.” Eleanor said, “Also, very important: compliment people, even if they’re strangers and you find it hard to come up with something nice to say about them.” She paused to shoot Celeste a glance. “Even you need to hear this, young lady. I’ve caught you joining in on gossip too many times. Those so called friends of yours aren’t the best influence on you.” Celeste cringed and kept silent, but Jayne could almost hear her thoughts. Maintaining the prim and proper lady appearance must have been awfully boring for her at times, Jayne thought. Eleanor continued as if the reprimand had never been uttered. “And while we’re on the topic of proper speech,” she said to Jayne, “you absolutely must remember to say please and thank you whenever it’s warranted. If you’re invited to any social event, it’s important to personally thank the host. If you receive a compliment, a simple ‘thank you’ is the proper response, nothing more. If you need any kind of information or want something done, add a ‘please.’” “Unless you’re talking to a servant,” Celeste said, adding her two cents, obviously eager to redeem herself. “Yes, you don’t have to treat the domestics with kid gloves. If they make a mistake, do not be afraid to politely reprimand them. It will show that you have your own domestics and know how to deal with them.” Jayne flinched a little at this. Despite the fact that Eleanor was trying to pretend otherwise, she was a “domestic,” too, at least within the walls of the villa. “Just as vital as the language is the body language,” Eleanor continued. “You want to find a mix of confidence and calm, of ladylike behavior and a certain command of every situation. Sit straight with your legs closed. You may cross your legs at your ankles if you wish, but never higher.” Eleanor proceeded to sit on the three different types of chairs in the living room, demonstrating different ways to sink into them and get up from them with grace. “Walk straight and neither too slowly nor too fast.” Eleanor walked around the room, mimicking behavior such as nodding to acquaintances, waving to a servant, and accepting a welcome drink. “Don’t fidget, don’t worry with your face or move your hands too much. Don’t touch your hair all the time, and don’t play with your jewelry or accessories.” She shot a stern glance at Jayne, who realized with sudden embarrassment that she had absentmindedly been toying with the hem of her blouse while listening. Jayne felt overwhelmed. All those little things she had been doing for more than twenty years needed to be forgotten or changed! I need a computer to store all this information, she thought to herself. Taking notes would make everything easier, although so far she wasn’t hearing anything a book or the internet wouldn’t have told her. She took advantage of the pause to get an important question in. “What about greetings?” Her mother shot her an approving look. “A good point…and a broad topic. I think the best advice I can give you in this regard is to observe what others do and do the same as somebody who looks your age and position. Customs vary from country to country, occasion to occasion, and depend on how well you know a person, obviously.” With a small frown, she turned to Celeste. “We must get your sister more reading material. And perhaps you could look for online instructions, ideally videos or photos with clear guidelines. I will have some books from the Les Fleurs library sent here.” Celeste went to her room and returned with a cream leather bag. Opening it, she took out a silver laptop decorated with white and pink Swarovski crystals, just like the ones adorning her smartphone case. “We’ll need to get you a designer laptop like this one,” she said while switching it on. With a sigh, Eleanor said, “Now you’ll both have to excuse me, as I have a million things to do.” She glanced at her watch and looked up at Jayne. “Can I ask you to make me some tea and then get started on dinner?” * * * Jayne prepared butternut squash tortellini, with cranberries, balsamic, and a sage brown butter sauce. She picked the sage right out of the garden. It was one of many recipes she’d learned from observing the chef at Savor the Moment. Both Eleanor and Celeste seemed impressed and delicately cleaned their plates, relishing the flavor. “How did you learn to be such a good cook?” Celeste said, sounding a little envious. “Did your mom teach you?” “A little,” Jayne said modestly. “Mostly I learned from my waitressing job, paying attention to what was going on in the kitchen.” After Jayne cleaned up the dishes, the three of them retired to Celeste’s room and had another grueling “how to be a lady” coaching session. At the end of the second hour, Celeste lifted her arms over her head and stretched languidly. “Don’t you think it’s time for a break?” she asked Eleanor, her voice hopeful. “Oh, I suppose so. Why don’t you girls go for a walk, stretch your legs?” Jayne had been feeling all along that her sister wasn’t really enjoying briefing her on etiquette, but neither of them had a choice. As her head was swimming with all the new information, she answered with a glad nod and followed her twin onto the pool terrace. They walked to the border of the garden—which still looked like a rampantly growing tangle of plants nobody cared for—and enjoyed the view of the sea. A quarter moon was out and it left a shimmering reflection across the water. Jayne tried to bring her thoughts into order, gratefully inhaling the fresh air scented with flowers and a tinge of brine. Celeste was a much less methodical teacher than her mother, and she didn’t really involve Jayne when giving her own lessons. Instead, she spouted off one-liners or launched into a longer discourse whenever something came to her mind, often jumping from one topic to the other within seconds. All those tips and instructions…. Don’t say “pleased to meet you” but rather “how do you do?” or simply “hello.” Never refuse anything just with a “no,” but clothe the refusal in niceties and whatever explanations you can come up with. Always practice polite small talk, but never mention the weather or politics. Be punctual, but don’t arrive too early. Drink a glass of water to match every glass of wine. When you drink tea, put the tea in first, then the milk and then the sugar—and do choose tea instead of coffee. Don’t pay in cash when shopping, always use your credit card. Stand up when you’re being introduced. Don’t ask people for their contact details, and don’t give them yours unless asked. When told somebody’s name, use it in conversation. If you’re with Robert or a man, let him open the door for you, pull back the chair for you, and let him make the choices of food and drink to be on the safe side. Don’t use “I” too much. And don’t use strong words like “hate” or “ugly” or “bad,” find synonyms and make it sound as if you don’t complain. Pretty much ignore children because you’re not allowed to scold them or play with them or try to extract information about their parents. Don’t interact with animals, just ignore them too. And most importantly: Smile, smile, smile. Jayne didn’t feel like smiling, though. The vast amount she had to learn was slowly sinking in. She felt as if she had been living on a different planet. She started wondering if she had taken on too much. The amount of knowledge her mother displayed on this subject was truly impressive. Yet, she also wondered how much of the advice Celeste actually practiced herself. Taken in full, it seemed like an ideal that a lady should aspire to become, but impossible to ever completely achieve. Chapter 1.14 The day Eleanor’s newborn baby—the healthy twin—was brought home from the hospital, she had no regrets about running away. Sitting on the Greyhound bus as it left the terminal, she felt nothing as she glimpsed the sprawling Gateway Arch for the last time, its silver stainless steel panels spanning the west bank of the Mississippi River. It was a landmark she had taken for granted every day of her life, something that was simply there, nearby, that was visible from all over the St. Louis, but it meant no more to her than the baby she was leaving behind. The bus stopped in ten different cities as it headed east—there were one-hour rest stops in Indianapolis, Dayton, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, where Eleanor had to change to another bus to actually reach New York City. The total transit time was a little over 24 hours. The closer the long, stuffy vehicle got to New York, the more crowded it became. When it stopped in Pittsburgh, a girl around her age climbed on board and walked down the aisle uncertainly, looking for a seat, like she’d never ridden aboard a Greyhound bus before. She had dark skin and long, straight brown hair—she looked Hispanic or maybe of mixed race. As she approached, Eleanor could see that she had a bruised cheek that had been hastily covered with make-up. “Do you want to sit here?” Eleanor said, as she passed by. Her name was Tina. Within half an hour, she and Eleanor became best friends. Tina was running away from home, too. One of her teachers at school had gotten her pregnant, and when her father found out, he went berserk. Her situation was just the opposite of Eleanor’s—she had wanted to keep the baby, but her father forced her to have an abortion, which had taken place only a week ago. He drank a lot and beat her from time to time, and sometimes would try to fondle her. That, combined with the scandal at school, had simply been too much for her to handle, and she had finally fled. Tina wanted to be an actress, too. Or maybe a model. As the bus finally approached New York and rounded the ramp that led down into the Lincoln Tunnel, the sprawling, glittering skyline of Manhattan came into view. It was somehow breathtaking and terrifying at the same time. Eleanor took Tina’s hand. She only now realized how dangerous this journey was and how lucky she was to have found a friend to share it with so quickly. She also wondered, reflectively, how many other teenage girls threw caution to the wind and were on busses headed to New York or Chicago or L.A. at this very moment. Dozens if not hundreds, she thought. Later, she would wonder why she hadn’t realized that just as many predators would be waiting for them to arrive. * * * His name was Slinga and he “tripped” over Eleanor’s suitcase almost as soon as she and Tina stepped off the bus. He was tall, with skin the color of caramel, his hair braided into neat cornrows. He wore a heavy gold necklace and his tattooed fingers were adorned with thick rings. There was a hauntingly beautiful Hispanic girl on his arm who looked about eighteen. “This be my girlfren’, Maria,” he said, smiling and revealing a couple of gold teeth. The massive Port Authority Bus Terminal was intimidating, full of urban riffraff of every description, many of the men already eyeing Eleanor and Tina with questionable intent. Slinga walked through the bus terminal in his fur coat like he owned the place, nodding to a few people, slapping a hand here and there. There was something warm and paternal and protective about him, and Eleanor and Tina found themselves drawn to his confident, easy manner. “So, ya’ll come here to be actresses and models, huh? Well, you come to da right place. Maria done some modeling, haven’t ya baby?” “Yeah,” the girl said, popping gum. “I done some trade shows up at Javitz.” Eleanor had no idea what “Javitz” was, but Maria spoke about this with confidence. Almost before Eleanor new it, she and Slinga and Maria and Tina were walking towards his car like they were old friends. This man is a pimp, Eleanor thought, but somehow this notion carried no weight and was gone almost as soon as she’d had it. “Ya’ll got a place to stay?” Slinga said casually, as they stood in front of his car. It was a tricked-out Cadillac, turquoise with mag wheels, the back windows covered with panels that made it look a little bit like a hearse. * * * With Slinga’s expert help, Eleanor and Tina descended into drugs and prostitution almost without knowing what was happening to them. “Sho, sho, I can get ya’ll into modeling, no problem,” he told them, “but you gotta start small, one step at a time, do what you gotta do to get by till you get that big break, you know what I’m sayin’?” He owned a five bedroom house in a crummy part of New Jersey and ferried his stable of girls into Manhattan every evening, sometimes requiring several trips back and forth. He managed them all with beepers and at this time kept them working in Hell’s Kitchen, dropping them off and picking them up in the area west of Ninth Avenue between 40th and 55th Streets. He paid off the cops who handled this area and generally didn’t have much trouble except for the occasional sex freak or mugger. Eleanor was surprised at how easily she fell into “the life.” Slinga somehow made it seem glamorous rather than sleazy, and constantly pointed out how much more money they were making than if they were working regular jobs as waitresses or store clerks, which was true. Of course, when you worked as a waitress or store clerk you didn’t have to constantly take drugs to psychologically cope with what you were doing every day. The first few months was like being on an amusement park ride, that offered crazily flashing lights and wild music and physical thrills and spills, but was on a firm track that was steadily moving forward and would never stop. You could not get off. Slinga himself was a puzzle, the way he could make the girls love him and hate him at the same time, how he could brutally “discipline” them for not bringing in enough money, whip them with wire hangers or twist their nipples with a pair of pliers and then tenderly comfort them afterwards, like a parent, and have them apologizing for their bad behavior. The work was dangerous. There were “freaks” roaming the streets who liked to cut up prostitutes, and of course they were fair game for the run-of-the-mill mugger. * * * Two months after Eleanor and Tina were taken under Slinga’s wing, Tina disappeared. A week later her body was found in an alley. Through Slinga’s police connections they learned that she had died of a heroin overdose, but Tina was not into that drug. Everyone assumed she had simply been mugged for the few hundred dollars she was carrying and that the overdose had been faked by the culprit. * * * One night about four months after Eleanor started working the streets, Slinga “invited” her up to the master bedroom, which was on the third floor of the house. “Tiny-Mac,” a three hundred pound black man who served as Slinga’s muscle and chauffeur, told her to get her ass upstairs, that “da boss” wanted to see her. This wasn’t good, Eleanor knew. When they entered the room, Slinga was in a silk bathrobe, sitting at his desk. Maria lay on the bed, watching TV. “Baby, go downstair’ for a little while, I gots to talk bidness with Angel.” Angel was Eleanor’s working name. She had never told Tina or anyone else her real name, afraid that her parents may have reported her as a runaway to the police and would somehow find her. As soon as Maria walked out, Slinga approached Eleanor. He looked at her for a long moment, and then his arm shot out and he slapped her hard across the face, knocking her off her feet. “What did I do?” Eleanor cried, climbing up from the floor, terrified. “It’s not whatcha done, it’s whatcha ain’t done! You ain’t bringin’ in enough, you ain’t pullin’ yo weight round here. You got too much down time between johns!” “I…I have to be careful, there’s so many freaks and muggers—” “We gonna fix that,” he said, turning and opening the bottom drawer of his dresser. He pulled out a butane torch and a long iron rod. “No!” Eleanor screamed, backing away—he was standing between her and the door, blocking her path. He turned the gas on the torch and lit it with the cigarette lighter, then carefully laid it down on top of the dresser and positioned the end of the iron rod in the hissing blue flame. He turned to Eleanor. “Get yo ass on that bed.” When she didn’t move, he leaped forward and tackled her. The next thing she knew his knee was in her spine and he was roughly binding her hands behind her back. Then he tied her down to the bedposts with rope. “You bite down on this so you don’t wake up half the hood,” he said, forcing a twisted towel into her mouth. Then he was coming at her with the iron rod, the end of it red hot. Holding her down, he yanked up her blouse and carefully pressed the glowing iron into her flesh. * * * “You mine now, bitch,” he said, as he pulled up her blouse to reveal his handiwork. The word SLINGA was branded into Eleanor’s skin just below her navel, on the left side of her abdomen. “Cops or some sucka pimp or anybody else give you any trouble, you just show them that. Ain’t nobody gonna mess with you now, cause you got the mark of the Slinga on you. Ain’t that right, Tiny-Mac?” “Dats right, boss.” “You da Slinga’s girl, baby.” He smiled, revealing his two gold front teeth. “You a super-ho now!” They were in the Cadillac, heading through the Lincoln Tunnel for Manhattan. Maria was sitting beside her, holding her hand. Maria had been branded a month ago. The first night after the branding, when Eleanor had been in such agony even crack and downers could not take the edge off, Maria had tried to convince her that it was a rite of passage, that being branded by Slinga was an “honor” and showed that he now considered her a permanent member of his stable. “He don’t put his name on just anybody, ya know,” Maria said. Eleanor merely nodded. The next time he lays a hand on me, she vowed, I’ll kill him. * * * That very evening, Eleanor found herself standing inside an all-night pawn shop, eyeing a neat row of antique knives and straight razors in a display case. “It’s a gift for my father,” she felt the need to tell the clerk, who opened the case and retrieved the one she wanted. It was a beautiful instrument, the handle made of chocolate brown ebony wood, with brass inlays. The clerk was even kind enough to sharpen it for her with one of those leather straps like they used at barber shops. Eleanor spent the rest of the evening sitting in a remote corner of a seedy café, ignoring everyone and everything. The razor had been expensive—she used most of the money from her one and only customer that night to pay for it. About six a.m. she received the message on her beeper that Tiny-Mac would pick her up at 41st and 10th in twenty minutes. Eleanor felt a strange sense of calm during the ride back through the tunnel to New Jersey. Honey and Jolene and Crystal were in the car, all tired, two of them already high on crack. When they got home, Slinga was laid out on the couch in the living room, a little stoned, his glassy eyes fixed on the TV screen. “Whatcha got for me?” he said as they went through the ritual of turning over their money. The three other girls handed him small bundles of cash. Eleanor handed him a single, wrinkled twenty dollar bill. Slinga looked down at it, then back up at her face. “What the fuck?” “I had a slow night.” He stared at her as she and the other girls headed towards their rooms. Rising from the couch, he said, “Angel, you and I gonna have a good long sit-down about this tomorrow,” and went upstairs. Everyone knew what a “sit-down” meant. * * * Eleanor did not see Slinga the following day—he stayed upstairs in his room, as he often did, and conducted his business from there, having Maria bring food up to him. About seven that evening, the girls were preparing to leave, stuffing their purses full of condoms which Slinga provided free of charge. Their lord and master and substitute daddy stood halfway down the stairs, still wearing his bathrobe. “Angel, you stayin’ here tonight. You get you ass upstairs after everybody else gone.” When Tiny-Mac left, she heard the deadbolt on the front door click shut. Eleanor had expected this—it was standard procedure when one of the stable girls needed discipline. Both the front and back doors had deadbolts that could be locked from either side, and due to the bad neighborhood, all the windows on the first floor had bars over them. There was no escape. “Get yo ass up here, Angel!” Slinga called. Eleanor climbed the steps, expecting her knees to be shaking, or her hands trembling, but that eerie calm feeling had come over her again. When she stepped into the bedroom, Slinga was standing there in his bathrobe, a belt coiled around his hand, the heavy steel buckle dangling down. The propane torch was sitting on the dresser, blue flame hissing. It was heating up the other end of the branding iron, the cylindrical shaft and grip. Slinga smiled, moving towards her. “Seems like you don’t appreciate what it means to be one a Slinga’s girls. So I gonna teach you, give you some serious hurt that won’t heal so fast.” Eleanor snickered. Slinga took another step towards her, but stopped in his tracks, two feet away. “You think this is funny, bitch?” She giggled. “No…but you have something on your…” She touched her lip. The big black man frowned, then reached up to touch his lip with his left hand. Eleanor swung fast and hard. Her arm cut through the air in a perfect, lightening-fast arc. The straight razor slashed through his neck like it was made of soft pork, right across his Adam’s apple. For an instant, Slinga’s eyes widened almost as big as the gaping hole in his neck, with a strange combination of shock, wonder and disbelief. Then there was blood—so much blood! It gushed out of him in pulsating waves that cascaded down his chest like a human fountain. He collapsed in front of her on the floor, clutching at his neck and making gurgling sounds. He then lay still, dead, in a matter of seconds. Eleanor had jumped back to avoid the blood, but it had splattered all over her stockings and shoes and the lower part of her miniskirt. Emotionally, she felt nothing. She had thought she would experience some heady rush of justice, or the sweet tang of revenge, but on the inside she felt as dead as the corpse that lay on the carpet in front of her. Trying to stay clear of the widening pool of blood, she went to the dresser and picked up the late Slinga’s keys, then started searching the bedroom and accumulated all the cash she could find. There was about $2,700 total. She then went through a stock of fake and stolen driver’s licenses that Slinga accumulated to give to new girls he recruited and chose one with a photo that would pass for her. She went to her own room and quickly showered and changed clothes. Ten minutes later she was safely inside a taxi, heading towards the Port Authority Terminal in New Jersey. Chapter 1.15 At the end of the Jayne’s first full day of grueling lessons on “how to be a lady,” when Eleanor had finally left them alone, Celeste looked at her sympathetically and said, “Is it too much?” Jayne gave a rueful smile. Hopefully she wouldn’t be so easy to read for others. “A bit.” “You’re such a darling for doing this for me, I feel awful drilling you.” Celeste reached up and straightened Jayne’s blouse collar before going on. “I don’t think every day will be so intense. Today’s the start, and all starts are rocky. Mother has planned so much for you, it’ll be like a step-by-step education. It won’t be so overwhelming once you fall into step with it.” Jayne nodded. “Yes, it’ll help if there’s a method or system behind it. I’m afraid I’ll simply forget every single sentence I’ve listened to when put to the real test.” “I don’t think that will happen. And besides, this is all just for safety’s sake. As we’ve told you, we’ll limit your outings as much as we can. Mostly, it’ll be you in Mother’s company, which leaves hardly anything for you to do. The rest will be you and Robert only.” “That’s exactly what makes me most nervous.” “Why? Shouldn’t it worry you more how a dozen people at a party view you or what the media will divulge about you?” “No. I’m most nervous about being with Robert. He’s the one who really matters.” Celeste made a face. “You’re right, of course. But I still think it won’t be too difficult. We’ve hardly seen each other since we were kids—honestly, he doesn’t really know me that well, not as an adult. Just be pleasant, shower him with attention, let him shower you with attention, and avoid anything too personal.” Jayne nodded—she wished both Celeste and her mother had a little more faith in her. She imagined herself chatting with Robert, imitating her twin. That part wouldn’t be very difficult, though. Celeste had gone to an American international high school in Paris, and her accent was Mid-western, almost like Jayne’s, except for a certain upper class spin she put on certain words, like “party,” which she said like “pah-tay,” with a slightly British inflection. It was easy for Jayne to imitate and she already found herself doing it almost without knowing it. What she was most afraid of was that she might say or do something “unladylike,” make a real social blunder that might cause Robert to change his mind about marrying Celeste. He could still back out of the wedding, too, just as easily as Celeste could, if he had good reason. Both Celeste and her mother seemed to conveniently forget that fact, as if there was no question of Robert’s commitment to go through with it. She hoped they were right. Staring back out at the Mediterranean Sea, Jayne tried to quiet the nagging voice in her head that exacerbated her anxiety, but it didn’t do much good. She hadn’t had many dates since she’d broken up with Nathan, which of course was also part of her anxiety. Besides, she doubted that her previous experience with men would be anything like what Celeste and Robert had shared. She really didn’t know what to expect, knowing each other since they were ten years old. And how on earth was she supposed to react if Robert made a pass at her? If he and Celeste hadn’t ever slept together, might he want to “try her out” before they got married? She didn’t know any upper crust men, but she couldn’t imagine them being that different from those whom she knew in Kansas. Men were men, weren’t they? “What’s he like?” Jayne finally asked, hoping that if she found out more about the mysterious fiancé it would calm her down. Now it was her sister’s turn to stare at the sea and think. “Robert’s a real gentleman. As I said before, maybe a bit too much of one.” Jayne raised her eyebrows, but kept her mouth shut. She knew enough rowdy men in Wichita who went through life drinking, cursing, smoking, watching football, and fantasizing about fast cars, so a gentleman sounded like a welcome break to her. Being used to rather uncivilized guys who had no idea how to treat a woman, she couldn’t understand what exactly Celeste was looking for. Did she really want some reckless bad boy for a husband? Surely not! Jayne had to agree with Eleanor on that point. Pouting a little, her sister went on, “Unlike most guys in his social class, he doesn’t mix and mingle, and he likes to be on his own. And Robert is full of ironies. On the one hand, he’s that tough businessman full of commanding confidence, on the other hand, he’s the outdoorsy type who is into all sorts of sports.” Celeste shuddered delicately. “If we do end up married, I hope he doesn’t expect his wife to join him on all those impossible activities. The only thing I can barely tolerate is golf, and that’s only because you’re chauffeured around in one of those cute little carts...and some of those young guys who work as caddies are real hunks!” She giggled and smiled at Jayne mischievously. Jayne thought all this was indeed ironic—she would probably be a better match for Robert than her sister. Two introverts with a liking for outdoor activities. “Can you show me some photos, tell me some of the key moments in your history he might bring up when we’re together?” “Oh sure, no problem,” Celeste said, trying to sound enthusiastic, but she was clearly bored by the idea. “Meeting Robert is the part of this I’m most nervous about, Celeste—I’m afraid I’ll somehow say the wrong thing and blow it.” “You won’t blow it, believe me. Just ask him a question about his business and he’ll blather on for hours, you won’t even have to open your mouth.” Jayne wasn’t convinced. Celeste sighed, touching Jayne’s shoulder. “Okay, I’ll show you some of our pictures and give you a mini-briefing right now. Will that make you feel better?” “Yes, thank you!” They both headed back towards the house, arm in arm. As they stepped around the side of the glimmering pool, Jayne glanced up at the Venus de Milo statue, then did a double take, slowing a little. There was a pockmark in the beautiful woman’s marble face, a pronounced gouge in her left cheek. The floodlights left a deep shadow in it, like a moon crater. “What’s wrong?” Celeste said. Jayne opened her mouth to say that she didn’t remember seeing the dent in Aphrodite’s face, but then decided a comment like that would be rude. Certainly not ladylike. “Nothing,” Jayne said. They continued into the house, and she decided she simply must not have noticed the statue’s damaged face before. * * * A few minutes later, they were sitting side by side in Celeste’s bedroom, in front of her notebook computer, waiting for it to warm up. Jayne’s mind wandered as she glanced around the interior of the room, wondering what Celeste’s bedroom was like at Les Fleurs. She supposed she would find out soon enough. She looked back at the screen. It was taking a long time for the computer to warm up. Now it was filled with a screensaver of some hunky male photo model standing on the deck of a yacht. He was dressed in shorts and a white polo shirt that brought out his tan, the wet garment plastered to his muscular body. His windblown, jet-black hair added a rakish air to the look. The screensaver must have been some advertisement for men’s sportswear or after-shave Celeste had downloaded. Her twin’s ideal bad-boy, Jayne thought, smiling to herself. Filthy rich, but still a rebel. She waited a little impatiently for the screensaver to disappear—she was anxious to see what Robert looked like. Celeste was just sitting there. “That’s actually his dad’s yacht, not his.” Jayne looked from Celeste’s face back to the screen. “That’s Robert?” “Yeah,” Celeste said, without much enthusiasm. “My god, he’s…” Jayne stopped herself, realizing that this was her sister’s fiancé they were looking at. “I mean, Robert is quite handsome, I think.” “Really?” Celeste said, glancing at Jayne. She looked back at the screen, cocking her head to the side, then clicked through a few more photos and stopped on a picture of him standing next to an older man. “That’s his father.” The two men could have been brothers, Jayne thought, both taller than tall, dressed in black pin-stripe suits, and smiling killer-smiles. The smiles were the slightest bit crooked at one corner, and thus all the more devastating. “And here’s one he sent recently,” Celeste said, “though I’m not sure why he chose that of all the hundreds of photos he must have.” She clicked and revealed another image which made Jayne’s heart flutter. Robert seemed to have been caught off guard. He was portrayed in a living room full of imposing furniture and an open fireplace. Dressed in a grey turtleneck sweater, he was holding an open book in his hands. Jayne hardly noticed all these details, because her gaze was drawn to Robert’s dark, penetrating eyes. As if he had been pulled out of a world of his own, he was glancing up at the photographer, in an unguarded way. He wore an uncharacteristically open, and at the same time pensive expression on his face with the chiseled cheekbones and perfectly straight nose. His intense brown eyes seemed to bore right into her, and Jayne gave a little shiver that she hoped Celeste didn’t detect. She stole a glance at her sister. My god, she thought—Celeste really has no clue how handsome her fiancé is! But as Jayne thought more about it, it was understandable. Celeste had known Robert since he was just a scruffy little boy—she simply couldn’t see him objectively, the way another woman would. “You really think he’s attractive?” Celeste asked. “Well, yes, I think so.” What Jayne actually wanted to say was, “Are you kidding me? He looks like a Chippendale model!” Instead, she added soberly, “He does take after his father,” hoping this would temper any inappropriate reaction that Celeste might have noticed. “I suppose he’s not bad looking,” Celeste concluded, and she began flipping more quickly through the photos, moving farther and farther into the album. Now she reached the childhood pictures. Jayne could better understand why Celeste wasn’t sure about Robert’s sex appeal—he’d been a pudgy, nerdy boy of twelve, just like Jayne had imagined. But since that time, slowly, over a period of many years, before Celeste’s eyes, he had completely transformed from a frog into a prince. She could probably still see the frog in him, or perhaps that was mostly what she saw. “Here we are down at the beach—those are the rocks where we were yesterday.” Celeste flipped through several more photos of them as children, smiling at the memories, laughing now and then. She stopped on a picture of her and Robert making silly faces into the camera—Eleanor or someone else must have taken it. “I remember this day so well. Robert found a snake skin in the garden and left it on my pillow—I thought it was real, nearly jumped out of my own skin!” Celeste spent more minutes flipping through the childhood photos, telling a few more anecdotes, and then opened one in another album, this one labeled ENGAGEMENT. It was the first photo so far that showed Celeste and Robert together, as adults. Celeste was dressed in a knee-length, peacock blue silk dress with elbow length sleeves, a gathered waist, and intricate lacework around the neck. She looked radiant next to a dashing Robert in a charcoal suit with a white shirt, and a tie exactly matching the color of the dress. “Wow. You two make such a gorgeous couple. I can see why everyone says it’ll be the wedding of the decade.” Jayne meant every word she said, and evidently this was just what Celeste had needed to hear. She smiled indulgently. “We do look well together, don’t we?” For a moment, Celeste looked like any other young woman in love, excited about the upcoming wedding. Now Jayne understood more. The part of Celeste that wanted to marry Robert Astor wasn’t simply driven by a desire to be “safe” and to do the prudent thing to avoid opportunists, but by a deep desire to have a gigantic, glamorous wedding, to have the international media covering every detail, to be the center of social attention for weeks or even months, with women all over the globe discussing her wedding gown and a hundred other elements with envy—wasn’t that virtually every young woman’s fantasy? What girl wouldn’t be tempted to have all that? “You’ll be such a stunning wedding couple that it’ll be talked about for ages, I’m sure. Did your parents look as beautiful together?” An odd expression crisscrossed her twin’s face before it grew blank and her standard smile flickered on. “My parents opted for a private, small wedding. Of course I was only five and can barely remember it. But she told me they were so in love with each other they didn’t have time for the planning and for decorum. Plus my stepfather had been married before. So it was a very different situation.” Odd. Jayne could have sworn Eleanor was the woman who’d insist on a great deal of pomp to show herself and her husband off to the world. Celeste’s next sentence made her abandon her train of thought. “But I’ll never be able to compete with my step-grandmother. My stepfather’s mother was the style icon of her era, and known all over Europe.” Jayne was surprised. It sounded as if Eleanor was not the queen of high society, but rather her mother-in-law. “Gran was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen when she was younger, and even when she was old. It’s always been my wish to step in her footprints, but I don’t think I’d even come close to her level. At least I will be able to wear the same necklace she wore at her wedding.” Abandoning the notebook computer, Celeste turned to Jayne and gushed on and on, describing the most spectacular necklace one could think of, using technical jewelry terms that were foreign to Jayne. Apparently, the necklace was their most precious family heirloom, and her step-grandmother had written down in her will that it was to be handed down to her stepfather’s own daughter for her wedding. Jayne assumed that Celeste’s stepfather must not have had any children from his previous marriage or marriages. “You absolutely must see it, Jayne, it’ll take your breath away! Remind me to tell mother to show it to you when you get to Les Fleurs. Oh, and speaking of jewelry, you’ll need to read some books on the subject.” Jayne’s expression fell flat. On top of all this new information, she was supposed to learn about diamonds and gems and gold and silver and platinum and pearls? “Robert might ask you to come with him and choose the wedding rings, so you need to be prepared.” For a moment, a faint look of disappointment marred her sister’s lovely face. “I wish I could choose the rings, but I’ll just have to instruct you to pick the perfect ones.” Celeste hesitated, looking down at her engagement ring. “I suppose you’ll have to wear this one when you meet Robert.” Jayne shifted uneasily on the chair. Was Celeste already getting jealous of her spending time with Robert? Now she worried that her sister had picked up how attractive she thought he was. Celeste closed all the folders on the computer screen, leaving only the one of Robert standing on the yacht. It was the screensaver image after all. And Jayne wondered—if she used that photo as her screensaver, maybe she cared more about him than she let on? Or was the photo there simply for appearance’s sake? “Jayne? Earth to Jayne, are you there?” Jayne realized she was just staring at the screen, lost in thought. “Sorry, Celeste, this day has really been a bit much for me. I think I’m ready to call it a night—are you?” Chapter 1.16 Jayne’s training sessions went on intensively for a full week, including the weekend. Between cooking, cleaning the house, and doing the laundry, she was even busier than she’d been working double shifts at Savor the Moment. She squeezed every spare second into reading the books that Eleanor had arranged to be sent down from Les Fleurs—tomes on everything from etiquette to jewelry design. She also began driving the Bentley on errands, using Celeste’s driver’s license. It was definitely cool having a twin sister, Jayne thought, as she sat behind the wheel of the fancy car—so many useful items like clothes and driver’s licenses were interchangeable. She drove to a village on the north side of Nice and opened the bank account where she would deposit the money that Eleanor would pay her. Online banking cost extra, and when she learned that she could set up a standing monthly wire to Barbara’s clinic in Wichita to pay for the continued chemotherapy treatment, she decided against it. Why waste money on something she didn’t need? She simply checked the box on the form to have the Visa debit card, which would be mailed to the villa in seven days, and set up the automatic monthly wire transfer to the clinic. On Saturday, Eleanor took her shopping, choosing a summer dress, a cocktail dress and a beach outfit for her new family member, murmuring soft comments all the while. Later that day, when they had dropped Celeste off for a checkup at the gynecologist’s, Eleanor bought Jayne a “designer” laptop. The case was by Brazilian artist Alexandre Herchcovitch, with a black and pearl lace patterned cover and a gold-color lace sleeve. A little gaudy, she thought, but it certainly created the desired image. Worried about Jayne’s French, which was rudimentary and rusty from not having used it since high school, Eleanor hired an online tutor to help her. Every evening, Jayne—or Alexis, the pseudonym Eleanor had chosen for her—spent one hour on her new laptop, honing her conversational skills, having her pronunciation corrected, and receiving tips from the anonymous teacher via Skype. The sessions were fun and eased some of the day’s pressures. Jayne was impressed with the efficient and ultra-cautious way that Eleanor handled all this, making sure everything was kept absolutely secret. She knew that Eleanor came from a poor background. She often found herself wondering how her mother had managed to climb her way up from a bad section of St. Louis to a grand mansion in Paris, and how she had succeeded to marry someone as wealthy as “Lord” Liam Sotheby. She had lots of questions about her biological mother, of course, having lived her entire life not knowing her. Eleanor did not swim or sunbathe often, and on the one occasion she had donned a bathing suit, Jayne noticed some faint scars on her shoulder and stomach, patches of white that did not tan. It looked like she might have been burned and had plastic surgery on those places. One day Jayne’s curiosity got the better of her and she said to Celeste, “Did Mother have some kind of accident? I noticed some white marks on her skin.” Celeste nodded ruefully. “She was attacked by a baby cheetah.” Jayne’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding me!” “Nope. It happened in Africa, when she worked for the Peace Corps.” “She worked for the Peace Corps?” “Yes, when I was very young, I can barely remember it. Anyway, she was involved in an endangered species project, and she was freeing a baby cheetah from a trap and it freaked out and mauled her.” “How awful,” Jayne gasped, feeling a little sick. “I hope you weren’t there…” “No, of course not.” Jayne was looking forward to getting to know her mother better. She also was curious about how Eleanor had managed to marry Lord Liam Sotheby. Jayne didn’t quite know how to broach the subject. “So, your mother is Lady Sotheby. I’m not that familiar with those kinds of titles—was your stepfather a duke or something?” Celeste laughed. “Hardly. He was only a baron. A duke is the highest level on the British nobility totem pole. Then there’s marquess, earl, viscount, and baron. But there are titles lower than baron—life peer, baronet, knight, dame.” “Real scum, huh?” Celeste glanced up at her sister’s face, and then saw the smile and realized Jayne was joking. She threw her head back and cackled. “Yeah, real scum. You probably think all this peerage stuff is ridiculous—most Americans do.” “Actually, I think it’s interesting, I just don’t understand it—it’s completely foreign to me. I didn’t know Mother’s exact title and I think I should for what we’re planning.” “Yes of course you should, she should have already explained. Legally she’s Baroness Sotheby of Hargate. Hargate is a little village in England, where my stepfather used to own a castle, Hargate Castle. He and Mother and I moved to Paris, to Les Fleurs, when I was nine.” “Oh, how interesting! What was it like, living in a castle?” “Cold,” Celeste said, “which is why we moved to Les Fleurs. Anyway, you only use titles like Baron and Baroness on legal documents. In normal conversation Mother is just known as Lady Sotheby, and my stepfather was known as Lord Sotheby. You use Lord and Lady casually for all the noble titles.” “Do you have a title, too?” Celeste laughed again. “No, I’m not blood related so I don’t get one. I really am scum.” “Don’t say that, I was just joking!” “Oh, don’t worry, I don’t take any of this peerage stuff too seriously, believe me. Mother might, but not me. It’s just a social club you can only get into by marriage or birth, that’s all. It doesn’t mean anything nowadays.” Jayne wasn’t so sure that her sister was being honest about not caring. “So when you marry Robert—I mean, if you marry him—will you have a title?” “No, Robert has no title, either.” Her sister smiled. “He’s scum, too.” “But I thought his parents are Lord and Lady Astor.” “They are Lord and Lady, but his father’s legal title is Sir Bertrand Astor. That’s a kind of honorary title—Bertrand Astor was knighted Sir by the Queen for his business accomplishments, like Sir Richard Branson. His kids have no title. When he and his wife die, that’s it, game over, no title passes on.” “Oh, I see.” It all sounded extremely complicated. Jayne hoped she could grasp it before she encountered any of these people in the flesh. * * * The days went by fast, as Jayne was so busy. She was a bit stunned when she realized that two weeks had passed—it seemed like two days! In general, she thought things were going extremely well, and both Eleanor and Celeste seemed pleased. But throughout all of her training and preparation about how to be a lady and impersonate her twin, there was one thing that bothered her, and that was how taken she’d been with Robert Astor, and that just from looking at his photos. She wondered what would happen when they met in person. When she had agreed to all this, she had assumed he wouldn’t be anyone she was the least bit attracted to, and this was probably based on Celeste’s rather ho-hum attitude towards him, the fact that she found him “boring.” Jayne knew that one couldn’t make many judgments about a person’s character from photographs, but to her, Robert looked anything but boring. And handsome men made Jayne nervous, often left her tongue-tied and made her blush, which was even worse, because if they noticed, it was a dead giveaway and they knew how she felt about them. She hoped when she finally met Robert that all this wouldn’t cause any problems. She kept telling herself it wouldn’t, that she needed to program herself to see Robert as nothing more than “the guy her sister was marrying” and not let any other feelings that might stir inside her have an effect on her actions or their relationship. She was doing this for Celeste. * * * On Tuesday morning, just before ten, Jayne was in the living room, immersed in a book on fashion design basics. She was waiting for a load of laundry to finish washing. Celeste was lounging on the couch, her feet up, chatting with someone on her notebook computer. Eleanor entered the room purposefully, holding up a cream-colored card with elegant writing embossed on it. “Jayne, we have the perfect opportunity to put your new skills to the test. Word has gotten around that I’m currently in Nice and that Celeste is here, too. Madame Lavender is throwing one of her bridge parties, and this invitation arrived a few days ago. Jayne, I have been following your progress, and I think it’s time to provide you with first-hand experiences. The party is today, and I will attend it with you.” “But, I still have so much to learn!” Jayne said, suddenly panic-stricken. Celeste spoke at almost the same time. “Mother, won’t it be too soon?” Eleanor sat down in a chair across from them, her face set in an expression that told them she’d accept no opposition. “Today’s event is ideal for a first taste of things. Most of the guests will be my age, and I don’t think Jayne—I mean Celeste—will be paid that much attention.” Celeste made a face. “Ah yes, now I remember ominous Madame Lavender and her suffocating perfume.” Celeste glanced at Jayne. “I think she missed the class on ‘less is more.’” Jayne laughed nervously. Eleanor was not amused by the comment. “Her parties are so boring they nearly put me to sleep,” Celeste added. “All the better for Jayne. There won’t be much pressure.” Jayne was not placated by any of this. “But…but I still don’t know how to properly engage in conversation, and my French needs more brushing up, and…” Eleanor had held up a silencing hand. “This is not a dinner party, so things will be less formal. You’ll have an opportunity to watch how everyone behaves. Besides, I’ll be with you to guide you.” In her other hand, Jayne noticed, was a bright red leather Chanel address book that she constantly kept nearby. She opened it and began thumbing through it, running her fingers down the pages. “Now, let’s start thinking about who will be there so I can familiarize you with all their names.” “That’s her cheat sheet,” Celeste explained. Eleanor gave her a sharp look. “Yes, and when you turn forty, young lady, and have thousands of social contacts all over the world, you’ll see how difficult it is to remember names, too. Husbands, wives, children, grandparents….” Eleanor sighed. “My poor head is so packed with information I can’t even remember my own phone number anymore.” “Maybe I should make a list, too,” Jayne said uneasily. “Nonsense. You’re young and have a sharp memory. It would look bad, and might even raise suspicion.” With one of her warm smiles, she said, “Please stop worrying so much. I have faith that you can pull this off, dear.” She looked back at the little red book. “Now let me tell you about the people that I know for certain will be there.” Chapter 1.17 All the eyes in the room were on Jayne. No, that was only what it felt like to her. In reality, nobody at the fancy party was paying much attention to either her or Eleanor. Yet she felt as much under scrutiny as if she were a corpse in a morgue, being methodically dissected by doctors who listed her faults into a microphone. If it hadn’t been for Eleanor’s reassuring presence so close beside her, their arms nearly touching, she’d have bolted. The mansion Madame Lavender lived in was breathtaking. Built in the 1860’s, the French style townhouse was situated on a hill in the center of Nice, with a fabulous view of the harbor. The house had once been owned by Théo Van Gogh, Vincent Van Gogh’s brother, and was filled with antique furniture. There were two original Van Gogh’s hanging on the living room walls that must have been worth a fortune. The butler had just ushered the two of them into the living room. Jayne was wearing a pale lime green dress, with silver high heels. The shoes made walking an ordeal, but she felt more comfortable with them than with the expensive white gold necklace with its emerald pendant and matching earrings that Eleanor insisted she wore. Under the carefully applied layer of make-up that made her look more like Celeste, Jayne was already beginning to sweat, and they had only just arrived! A liveried servant stopped beside them with a tray of champagne glasses, and Eleanor gracefully picked one up. “Merci.” Jayne followed suit, though her Merci didn’t sound quite right to her, somehow. She tried to distract herself by studying her surroundings and remembering to sip delicately at the champagne every now and then, praying the bubbles wouldn’t make her stomach churn even more. She was breathing much too fast, and she could feel a series of coughs tiptoeing up her windpipe. No, she couldn’t give in to the early symptoms of an asthma attack! For Christ’s sake, this party was only a rehearsal. If she was already suffering from stage fright with Robert nowhere near, how on earth would she be able to handle the meetings with him? Nobody had noticed them yet. As Eleanor had promised, there wasn’t much of a crowd. The spacious living room was filled with mostly middle-aged and elderly ladies, some of whom had gathered at the bridge table around their hostess. Madame Lavender was dressed in the color matching her name, layer and layer of gauzy material adding to her colossal body. Now, the big woman noticed them standing there and she excused herself and rose from the table. Jayne’s heartbeat quickened. Eleanor said, “Remember. Straighten your spine, draw your shoulders back, and point your chin up a little.” Her mother’s voice was a mere whisper, and she had hardly moved her lips while speaking. The slightest of frowns was knitting her brows. Jayne latched onto her voice as if it were the anchor keeping her ship tied to safe waters. As Madame Lavender approached, Jayne forced herself to take deep, slow breaths without moving her body too much. Pretending to straighten her hair, she corrected her posture. Her mother depended on her, and so did her sister. She couldn’t let them down. “Oh, Eleanor, how good of you to come!” Madame Lavender said, with a heavy French accent. The two kissed in typical French style, three alternating kisses on the cheek, and then the big woman turned to Jayne. “Celeste, are you not looking lovely today!” As they went through the three-kiss ritual, the cloying smell of perfume slapped Jayne in the face, and she nearly gagged. To Jayne’s great relief, the woman didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about her appearance. “I was so thrilled to hear about your engagement to Robert Astor. Congratulations, my dear!” “Thank you,” Jayne said, hoping she’d used the proper tone. The woman turned to Eleanor and began chatting with her in French about how happy the families must be and about the wedding plans. Jayne took the opportunity to scan the rest of the elderly guests, watching for clues on how to behave. The hall seemed full of fake, melodious laughter, air kisses, manicured hands on elbows, and well-groomed hair. Most people were speaking French but a few were speaking English. Jayne detected some other languages—Dutch, she thought, and perhaps Finnish or Swedish. Madame Lavender soon left them alone, and they sat down on one of the sofas. Jayne began to relax a little bit. Apparently not many of the women knew Celeste and so she wasn’t paid much attention. Occasionally, a new guest was ushered in or entered from another room and approached Eleanor. Her mother would unfailingly know the woman’s name and exchange a few pleasantries. The women congratulated Celeste on her engagement to Robert Astor and exchanged a few words with Eleanor about the wedding plans. Smiles abounded, and then the lady would thankfully move on. Jayne felt incredibly strange thanking all these aristocratic old women for their gracious engagement congratulations...when in fact she hadn’t even met the man she was supposedly marrying. When a very thin woman with buffed-up blonde hair and all too full lips approached, Jayne smiled and received the three kisses on her cheeks, before realizing Eleanor had stiffened slightly next to her. “Bernice, what a pleasant surprise,” Eleanor said, sounding anything but pleased to see her. “I wouldn’t have expected you at the Cote d’Azur.” The aging lady took a seat next to Jayne, with the air of someone who planned to stay for a longer time. She had a long, hooked nose. “Oh, don’t you know, my dear, London can get a little tiresome. All that rain and wind, how is one supposed to cope with it?” The woman turned her attention to Jayne, looking at her from head to toe in a way she had thought no real lady was supposed to ogle. “Celeste darling, you look awfully slim. Is anything the matter?” Jayne hesitated. How was she supposed to react to that? Hadn’t her mother and sister told her nobody would dare to make personal comments? Who was this stranger that she could take such liberties? Before she could answer, Eleanor chimed in, her voice gaining in coolness while her smile was as bright as usual. “Celeste has been suffering from a rather bad bout of influenza. I think the climate change from Berlin to Milan and then Nice didn’t do her much good. She was bedridden for more than two weeks. Speaking of climate change, Bernice, is it true that you will soon be moving to Singapore of all places?” “Indeed. Rudolph has another of those grand ideas. He fancies we need to invest in a new casino there, and he insists I go along to represent the company.” Before either of them could react, she launched a new attack. “But never mind Singapore, I’d rather forget about it until it’s time. Dear Celeste, you must get in shape again quickly. I’ve heard your secret!” “What secret is that?” Eleanor asked. Jayne could sense that her mother had tensed. Bernice bestowed her with a reproachful look, pursing her fat lips, which made them look like rubber rings. “Now, now, don’t feign indifference. There’s no need to keep anything from your old friend Bernice, is there?” When Eleanor merely smiled, and Jayne concentrated on sipping some more champagne, she elaborated. “The wedding, of course. I met Lady Astor last week, and she told me the ‘event of the decade’ is only a few months away.” “It’s hardly a secret, dear,” Eleanor said, looking relieved. “It’s been in all the social columns. You must be out of touch.” “Of course I knew it was in the papers, but I would rather have heard the news from you than the fiancé’s mother.” Jayne wondered how much this lady really knew about all of them, and hoped to God she wouldn’t have to open her mouth to speak for herself again. “Lady Astor outlined the concept of the wedding to me,” Bernice said. Leaning forward, she went on in a half confiding, half patronizing tone, “Eleanor dear, I do hope you won’t go for the carriage drawn by white horses. That is so…passé. You need to come up with something more modern, something that fits Celeste’s reputation better.” Jayne could have sworn the temperature had cooled down almost to freezing point. She didn’t like the way the woman had emphasized the word ‘reputation’ as if there was a stain to Celeste’s name. But apparently, Eleanor had enough. She rose gracefully, and Jayne rose too, much less gracefully but gladly. “Thank you so much for your valuable advice, Bernice. I can see you already have your mind set on the more modern and eclectic tastes favored at casinos and at the other end of the world. But let me remind you we are planning a grand wedding in Paris, where horse-drawn carriages are anything but out of fashion.” Signaling for a waiter to take their empty champagne glasses, Eleanor added, “If you’ll excuse us now, I’d like to take Celeste onto the terrace to catch a breath of fresh air. She’s been cocooned away at the villa for much too long.” With that, she and Eleanor walked away, not bothering with hearing out a reply or saying a proper goodbye. * * * Outside on the spacious terrace, in the fresh air, Jayne found it much easier to breathe. In one corner, a cellist was playing classical music. The space was decked out with elegant chairs, tables laden with delicious-looking appetizers, and parasols. It opened to a wide lawn where mallets and colored balls and other sports equipment had been laid out. Was it for croquet? Jayne wasn’t sure what went on at these aristocratic “bridge” parties. It seemed like only a few people were actually playing cards inside the house. “Who was that woman?” she asked her mother softly, and she saw Eleanor’s mouth lengthen in displeasure. “Bernice is a friend of Robert’s mother, but we have never taken a liking to each other. For my taste, she is much too forward and pompous and thinks herself more important than she is. Her husband has made a fortune with casinos, but their background is rather sketchy.” “What was that she mentioned about the wedding? Horses? A carriage?” Before Eleanor could explain more, they were interrupted by somebody calling Celeste’s name. Both of them turned toward the sound, and yet again she could sense her mother’s calm veneer crack a little. Eleanor spoke to Jayne quickly, in a lowered voice. “It’s Valérie, one of Celeste’s French friends. Call her Val. She’s rather close to you, and probably saw you during your fashion trip some weeks ago, maybe spent some time with you.” Eleanor barely had a chance to rapidly whisper this into Jayne’s ear before the person in question had reached them. Jayne’s body had gone tense as steel—this was it, her first real challenge. The young woman was dressed in a red dress so short it barely reached her knees. Her heels were even higher than Jayne’s, and her earrings resembled huge golden loops that seemed bigger than her entire face. Jayne let the girl hug her and kiss her cheeks three times, steeling herself for whatever questions might be thrown her way. Valérie greeted Eleanor in the same enthusiastic way before addressing Jayne. “Celeste, where on earth did you disappear to after our amazing shopping tour in Milano?” Her French accent shone through, but luckily she was speaking fluent English. Jayne tried to remember to sound like Celeste—more energetic and yet elegant—and repeated the flu story her mother had just put to the test. “You poor girl. You do look a little under the weather. I swear it was the stay in Berlin that ruined it all. I’ve never been a fan of Germany’s capital. All those boorish people, that harsh language and that intimidating architecture.” The girl shuddered theatrically, laughed at her own comment, and launched into another stream of conversation. Why did nobody close to their family behave the way they were supposed to behave? Jayne cringed inwardly. Her sister’s friends and her mother acquaintances didn’t strike her as people she’d like to be around. She had not the slightest idea how to handle them—all the advice on being ladylike seemed superfluous. After filling Jayne in on what she had been up to during the past week—nothing but going to one French Riviera party after another, apparently—Valérie composed herself for a moment and caught her breath. She grabbed a glass from the tray of a servant who approached, downed the contents, remembered her manners, and placed it back delicately with a charming smile. “I’m so glad you’re here, Celeste. I was afraid I’d fall asleep at this dreadful party. Come, you must join me downstairs, Lord Charles and some of his friends have just arrived to add a little zest to it. This is going to be fun!” Taking her hand, Valérie started pulling her toward the stone steps that led to the front of the mansion, with its elegant courtyard and marble statues. When Jayne looked back over her shoulder in a near panic attack, she saw her mother nod almost imperceptibly. Eleanor was giving her a look that seemed to say, “This will be a challenge, but you can handle it.” Committing to do her best, she let Valérie lead her to the back of the grand house. A dozen limousines and luxury automobiles were scattered around, exotic sports cars Jayne couldn’t even name. At the far end, a sleek red vehicle that Jayne did recognize—a Corvette Stingray— was surrounded by a group of people who looked about her age. While approaching, Jayne counted three young men and one young woman, all sharply dressed and exuding effortless confidence. She reminded herself to maintain a good posture, though she could sense the atmosphere was anything but formal here. She wasn’t sure where Lord Charles was—there were no older men around. When they approached, all heads turned their way. Did Jayne imagine it or did the young woman with the pretty face look anything but thrilled to see her? The guys, on the other hand, were nearly falling over themselves to greet her and shower her with compliments, some speaking with British accents. “Celeste, you look fantastic!” “Awesome high heels, luv.” “Is that a new haircut? It really suits you.” Then they all began effusively congratulating her on her engagement to Robert—apparently Celeste had not seen some of them since the announcement. One of the young men, blond and blue-eyed, with a small scar over his right eyebrow, seemed to be the leader of the group. The other two hung back a little. He was the one who stood closest to the sports car. Jayne felt uncomfortable under his intense gaze. He hadn’t said a word yet. He quietly stepped up to her and actually kissed her on the cheeks rather than keeping to air kisses, and his lips brushed her skin dangerously close to her mouth. She stepped back, moving closer to Valérie, fighting to keep the confusion out of her eyes and the smile on her face. He finally spoke. “Celeste—just the person I was hoping to see here. What do think, isn’t my new baby magnificent?” It was obvious he meant the sports car in front of them. With a jolt, Jayne remembered that her sister was a fan of fast and expensive cars. Jayne looked at automobiles as only a way to get from Point A to Point B and rarely glanced at one twice. Before coming here, she had only driven the battered family car during her campus days—she lived close enough to work to walk, or ride her bicycle. “It looks gorgeous, and perfect for you,” she enthused, praying she sounded like her sister. The young man preened. He reminded her oddly of a strutting peacock when he circled the vehicle and stroked its shiny, chilli-red surface. Yet there was something sexy about him, too—his confidence was alluring. “It means a lot to me that you think so.” He spoke in the same slightly posh American accent as Celeste, and now Jayne realized that he must have been a former classmate from the international school in Paris. “The Stingray was just rated Number One this year in the luxury sports car category, and I had it imported straight from Detroit, Michigan, USA. And of course only number one is good enough for me.” Everyone grinned at his comment, and Jayne kept her appreciative expression firmly fixed on her face. Did upper class people really talk this way? It was hard to get used to. Yet she was impressed with how all these young people handled themselves, so smooth in conversation, such highly polished social skills. Jayne was envious. She stood there as the cocky young man proceeded to list all the exciting features and highlights of his latest buy. None of the technical terms he used meant much to her, but she oohed and aahed along with the others and understood that basically the car was sinfully costly, brand new, super-fast, and every man’s dream. After his long speech, the young man lavished all his attention on her again. “So, Celeste, don’t you agree I have outdone myself this time?” She nodded and realized she wasn’t mirroring her sister’s behavior enough. Surely her twin would be less wooden and monosyllabic. So she decided to take a chance. “But don’t you say that every time?” The group around her hooted, and Valérie applauded. “Lord Charles, she’s absolutely right. You’ll be in love with this one for a month or two, and then you’ll set your eyes on another novelty and proclaim that one is the best ever.” Jayne was a bit stunned. He was “Lord” Charles? He looked barely old enough to drive the car! He came closer and laid a hand on the small of Jayne’s back to gently push her toward the vehicle. The gesture struck her as strangely intimate…yet she found she did not mind. She’d never been touched quite in that way before and it felt both gallant and protective at the same time. He said, “Celeste, you know what’s next, I’m sure. Do you want to admire the car for a bit more, do you want to tell me about your oh-so-dull engagement, or do you want to hop in and save the rest for later?” “Hop in?” She couldn’t help blurting the question out, regretting it the very next moment when Lord Charles narrowed his eyes at her. “Why, isn’t this car fancy enough for you to test-drive? Tell you what, I have been looking forward to sharing it with you so much that I’ll even hand the steering wheel over to you once we’re on open road.” His tone was now as intimate as his gesture, and she felt herself blushing. Was she expected to drive this testosterone-fueled speed monster herself? She could barely drive a stick shift! Now, she realized all eyes were on her, and she wondered what expression was on her face. How could she get out of this? Searching her brain frantically, she finally said, “I’ll take you up on the offer soon, Lord Charles, but I really can’t today. I’m afraid I’ve been cooped up in the villa for too long after being sick.” “Oh,” he said, and he suddenly looked worried. “I didn’t know you’d been ill.” Now everyone was looking at her with concern. She had forgotten that nobody knew the cover story yet—Eleanor had only just started spreading it around. “It was nothing serious, just a bad case of the flu, and I got pneumonia on top of it. I still feel a little faint at times and have to take it easy.” Lord Charles smiled sympathetically at her but still seemed a little troubled. “Well, I wouldn’t mind you fainting in my car. It would give me the chance to play the knight in shining armor and escort you home. After all, I will one day be a viscount.” He said this last with sarcasm and everyone laughed. Before Jayne could respond, the pretty girl pranced past her and hooked her arm under Lord Charles’ arm. Shooting a simpering smile up at him, she said, “I guess it’s my luck that Celeste isn’t up to it. Why don’t you take me for a ride instead, I’m sure I’d have better things to do than faint.” He looked at Jayne for a little longer, disappointment on his face. Jayne was actually disappointed, too, and was surprised that she felt a twinge of jealousy, which of course was ridiculous. “Okay, we’re off. Whenever you do feel like burning the asphalt, Celeste, you know where to find me. I hope you feel better soon.” Chapter 1.18 Later that same night, back at the villa, Celeste and Jayne were lounging on the pool deck. The garden was bathed in a warm evening glow from the floodlights, looking less unruly than under the bright light of day. Jayne was exhausted. She had been recounting the events of the long day to her sister, caught between not panicking in hindsight and not making herself look like a fool. When she mentioned Lord Charles, Celeste’s face took on an odd expression, a little wicked, Jayne thought. With a hint of guilt in her voice, she said, “He’s a playboy and a little crazy, but he’s fun to be around. I guess it’s good that you’re taking my place these days, it’ll make it easier to forget all that and focus on Robert.” Curious, Jayne asked, “Aren’t you even a little bit happy that you can leave all the stress of dating behind?” Celeste looked at her with raised eyebrows, chuckling. “You must have hardly any experience with dating, or casual flirting. It’s so much fun! If I marry Robert, I’ll sorely miss that.” Jayne had to bite back the remark that Celeste’s “casual flirting” had got her pregnant. She found it difficult to come to terms with her sister’s surprisingly cavalier attitude toward sex and relationships. Then again, who was she to judge? Celeste had been right, she didn’t have much dating experience. Except for Nathan, there really hadn’t ever been any other serious beau in her life. Nobody but Nathan had ever moved her, emotionally, and she needed that. She couldn’t just hop into bed with people. “What about feeling lonely?” she insisted, curious to know more about Celeste. Her sister laughed again. “Why should I feel lonely? I have Mother, I have an eventful life traveling around the world, and I have loads of friends. And besides, having a husband won’t necessarily mean it won’t feel lonely. What if Robert is a workaholic like his father and I hardly get to see him? He doesn’t even send regular messages despite the fact that we’re engaged.” Jayne decided to let the matter rest, realizing deep down that she had been the one feeling lonely all along. But now she had her new family, and a million things to keep her occupied. They remained silent, each lost in their thoughts. Jayne could feel a slight headache coming on, so she closed her eyes and tried to relax. This day hadn’t been all that bad. Even with the surprises and potential potholes, she had somehow maneuvered her way through it without trouble. And she had learned something important, something which made her feel much more confident about impersonating Celeste. Even though her behavior had seemed a bit erratic to those who knew her sister—a couple of guests at the party had commented that she didn’t “seem herself today”—no one would ever, in a million years, imagine that some twin or clone was masquerading around the social circles as Celeste Sotheby. Such a notion would seem nothing short of preposterous without knowing that Celeste actually had a twin sister, and such a crazy thought would never occur to any of them. Jayne was confident that Eleanor would indeed keep her a complete secret until long after Celeste had given birth to her baby and made her decision about Robert, and then too much time would have passed for anyone to make the connection. The people who knew Celeste would simply assume that she was behaving a little oddly during this period, something that could be easily explained not only by her recent illness, but by the excitement and stress surrounding the huge upcoming wedding. Jayne lay there in the lounge chair, gazing out across the dark sea, feeling much more relaxed. Her eyes soon fell shut, and she felt herself drifting off. A few minutes later, she was dimly aware of her sister’s phone chiming the short melody that meant she had received an email. The next thing she knew, Celeste gasped, “Jayne!” She sat up straight in the chair, blinking at her sister’s suddenly ashen face. “What’s wrong?” Celeste stared at the phone, up at her sister, and back down at the screen. “It’s…it’s a message from Robert. He’s coming to Paris the day after tomorrow!” Chapter 1.19 The next forty-eight hours were filled with a bustling of activity, with Eleanor taking Jayne shopping again to buy more clothes, and both her mother and sister filling her head with yet more information to remember about Robert and his family. “Lady Astor went to Oxford.” “Bertrand won a bunch of big polo matches when he was younger.” “Robert’s favorite color is blue, he loves blue.” After a while Jayne felt like cupping her hands over her ears and screaming “Stop!” But she just politely nodded, pretending to absorb it all, and took notes. She told herself there was nothing to do but wing it and hope for the best. After all, what was the worst that could happen? As she’d reasoned two days ago, if she made a mistake, Robert would just think Celeste was behaving a bit strangely and chalk it up to the recent illness and nerves about their upcoming wedding. The morning they were leaving for Paris, Eleanor laid out the estate plans for Les Fleurs and went over them in great detail so that Jayne would know the layout, both inside and outside the mansion. “This villa sits on thirty-two thousand square feet of land, most of it landscaped garden, some of it riding ground bordering on a copse. The building itself covers more than five thousand square meters. As you see here, there’s a parking area at the back, there is a separate servant quarter to the left, and you’ll find a pavilion in the park. We have a stable with horses, and an orchard with fruit trees.” “She needs to know where all the light switches and things like that are located,” Celeste cut in. “Yes, but you’re home so rarely these days it would be natural for you to forget in such a big house.” “And all my favorite foods,” Celeste continued, glancing at Jayne. “Yes, but tastes in foods change over time, too.” “True. But she also needs to know all the servant’s names and what they look like, so she can tell them apart.” “Of the ones that remain, yes,” Eleanor said. Celeste frowned. “What do you mean, of the ones that remain?” Eleanor sighed. “I’m afraid this has been a terrible year for the domestics at Les Fleurs, darling. I’ve had to let some of them go. Including Imogene.” “Imogene?” Celeste said, looking shocked. “But…why?” “Stealing the silverware,” Eleanor said. “Imogene?” Celeste said incredulously. She looked at Jayne. “She was my nanny—I can’t believe it.” “I’m afraid it’s true. I caught the little hussy red-handed. And Geoffrey had to go, too.” Celeste looked even more shocked. Eleanor nodded distastefully. “Yes, apparently our respectable fix-it man began to take a liking to my underwear. I caught him in my bedroom and…well, you don’t want to know.” “Oh my God,” Celeste said, looking wide-eyed at her mother. “Why didn’t you tell me about all this?” “I didn’t want to bother you with it, dear.” “Did you hire replacements yet?” “No, I…I just haven’t had the time.” Eleanor looked weary as she thought about it. “As I’ve said, it’s getting harder and harder to find good domestics, and I’ve been so busy with all my charity work. So as a temporary solution I closed off quite a few of the rooms to cut down on the workload—the upper study, four of the bedrooms, and a few others. We’re down to a staff of five now.” Celeste looked bewildered. Jayne had no idea how many servants they’d had before, but it must have been a lot more than five. Celeste gave Jayne a nervous glance, and said, “This is all so much for her to remember, Mother. Maybe I should handle this first meeting with Robert. I’m not really showing yet, and—” “No!” Eleanor snapped, so sharply that Jayne jumped. “You wanted to do it this way, and you’re going through with it.” She glanced at Jayne. “Both of you. I’ve already invested too much time and energy to do this halfway.” She looked firmly at Celeste. “Robert hasn’t seen you in a long time, anyway, so it’s better we start this off on the right foot with Jayne, so there is no confusion.” “Okay,” Celeste said, a little defensively. “I was just trying to help.” “Now, Jayne, our chief housekeeper’s name is Giles. He has short-cropped red hair, and is quite tall. Under him is Sean, Margaret and…. Chapter 1.20 After killing Slinga, Eleanor fled New York City with Boston as her new destination. In the weeks leading up to the murder, she had realized that the biggest mistake she’d made when she came to New York City was not having a plan. Working as a hooker for four months on the perilous streets of Hell’s Kitchen had matured her, made her much more cautious, much more likely to think things through before acting. Now, she did have a plan, and that was to become a “high class” call girl, one who could make a thousand or two a night and worked independently, with no middleman. Of course this was the dream of most streetwalkers, a dream that was rarely achieved, but Eleanor believed she already had a small edge. One night she’d been picked up by a little balding Jewish divorce lawyer from Boston who had come down to New York to meet a client for dinner. Unlike most of her johns, this man treated her nicely, almost like a date. He took her out to several expensive clubs, danced with her, talked to her, and generally made her feel like a fully fledged human being. She also felt oddly at ease with him, as if they’d known each other a long time. Maybe she felt comfortable because he was so short—Eleanor was a good six inches taller than he was. In any case, they had stayed out all night and Eleanor had actually enjoyed herself for the first time since she’d left St. Louis. By the time they went to his fancy hotel room in Midtown, he said he was too tired to have sex with her. He had agreed to pay her up front for all of her time, and she was a little worried that he would try to back out and she would return to Slinga empty-handed. But not only did he pay her for every hour they were together, he added on a mind-blowing $300 tip. Touching her chin, said, “You’re too nice a girl to be walking the streets, doll. It’s dangerous.” He looked her up and down thoughtfully, then jotted down a phone number and said, “If you ever get off the drugs and come up to Boston, give me a call. You could make very good money up there, it’s a totally different scene.” She had kept his phone number. As soon as she got herself together, she planned to call him. * * * The first week in Boston was pure hell for Eleanor. She checked into a moderately priced hotel downtown where they did not require a credit card, and holed herself up there, ordering her meals from room service and watching TV. It took all of her willpower not to go back out on the street and seek out some crack, or other drug to take the edge off. Instead, she chewed pack after pack of gum and smoked pack after pack of cigarettes, but these were poor substitutes. Withdrawal caused her to suffer from tremors, cold sweats, depression, and intense bouts of anxiety and paranoia. She kept thinking that at any moment the police would break the door down and arrest her for Slinga’s murder. But as the time passed and she began to think more rationally, she reassured herself that the New Jersey police would not dedicate much effort to finding the killer of a low-life pimp like Slinga. The man had been proud of the fact that he worked “independently” and was not part of any organized gang, so she wasn’t worried about being hunted down by some nefarious crime lord with tentacles that stretched across the country. Nobody knew her last name, and she wasn’t even sure any of the girls actually knew her first name, either—she had been “Angel” from the day she arrived. She had checked into the hotel using one of the stolen driver’s licenses she’d found in Slinga’s desk, had dyed her hair jet black and cut it much shorter to match the picture on the license. Now, her name was Lindsay Sandlin, and she was 21 years old, from Hartford, Connecticut. Her story would be that she saved up some money to come to New York to try to become an actress, then got discouraged and decided to move to Boston. As long as she maintained a low profile and her money held out, she thought she was relatively safe. * * * The divorce lawyer who had treated her so well during the one night in Manhattan was named Bernie Zimmerman. Eleanor finally got the nerve to call him two weeks after she had arrived in Boston, when the money she’d taken from Slinga began to run out. He remembered her right off, sounding surprised to hear from her. They agreed to meet in the basement of a quiet bar on the Upper West Side. She bought a beautiful new cocktail dress for the occasion, as well as a necklace to go with it, and some sexy high heels. When she walked up to Bernie, he looked her up and down and grinned. “Wow! You did it!” Somehow, he knew she was clean just from looking at her. And as they sat down at a little table in the corner, she at once understood why he hadn’t slept with her in New York—he didn’t want to have sex with a drug addict. She supposed she couldn’t blame him. After some small talk, he took her to a nearby hotel, got a room, and they did what he hadn’t done the first night. He told her that her new hair color and cut really turned him on. He asked her to keep her high heels on while they did it, but she told him they were brand new and killing her feet, and she took them off. Afterwards, Bernie fixed them both drinks from the mini-bar and sat down in a chair, still naked. He was so short his feet barely touched the carpet. She stayed in bed and pulled the sheet up over her chest—for some strange reason she now felt self-conscious in front of him. He was old enough to be her father. “You know,” he said, “you could make a hell of a lot of money for yourself here in Boston.” “Yeah, I know. I mean, that’s what you told me.” He sipped his drink, studying her. “You’ll probably need to change your attitude, though. Broaden your mind a bit, adjust your image….” Eleanor frowned. “What’s wrong with my image and attitude?” “Let me ask you a question. In New York, did you ever have clients that wanted…” he motioned vaguely with his drink “…kinky stuff?” “Yeah, sure. But I never had anything to do with those twisted types, because—” He raised his hand, cutting her off. “That’s what I’m talking about.” “What?” “‘Twisted types.’ You’re judging men for their fantasies and fetishes. There’s nothing wrong with those things as long as they don’t hurt anybody else.” Eleanor considered this, slowly chewing her gum. “Yeah, I suppose so. But the rough stuff—” “I’m not talking about rough stuff, beating people up and all that. I’m talking about the zillions of other fetishes and fantasies that ordinary men like me have every day.” He took another sip of his drink. “I’ll bet something else you noticed is that most of the men who go to prostitutes are married.” “Yeah, I noticed.” Eleanor looked down at his wedding ring. “Like you.” “Yes, like me. And do you know why married men go to prostitutes?” She shrugged. “They’re bored with their wives?” “No.” “They want variety?” Bernie was shaking his head. “They want someone a lot younger? Bernie was still shaking his head. “Why, then?” “Because they want to act out their fantasies with someone, and they’re afraid to ask their wives to do it!” This notion took Eleanor by surprise. “Really?” She looked at her high heels, which were on the floor. “No. I can’t believe that—surely you’re not afraid to ask your wife to—” “—to keep her high heels on? No. But that’s at the tame end of the fetish spectrum, Angel. Would I ask her to dress up in a rubber gummi outfit or tie me up and whip me, or dress me up like a baby in a diaper or join me with another woman for a threesome?” He laughed hard, snorting a little, and took another sip of his drink. “Are you kidding me?” “So what are you saying—I need to do all that kinky stuff to make a lot of money here?” “And much more,” Bernie said. “Much more.” He pointed at her again. “You learn to do the full spectrum, and you’ll have all the money you’ll ever need.” * * * At first, Eleanor felt strange and a little uncomfortable with the idea Bernie had proposed to her, but the more she thought about it, the more sense it made. “Think of it like show business,” he explained. “You told me you wanted to be an actress, right? Well, this is acting, too—it’s playing a role. Only the performance is for an audience of one who participates in the play.” When Bernie put it this way, it seemed more palatable. And the money! He told her she could easily bring in one thousand dollars per night, and, doing the math for her, showed her how that by working only five nights a week, out of her own apartment, with virtually no business expenses, she would make a quarter of a million dollars per year—completely tax free—and still have two weeks off she could spend relaxing at a five star hotel in the Caribbean. He gave her books to read, took her to some porno shops in the “Combat Zone” section of Boston and gave her a kind of tour of the BDSM fetish world, showing her all kinds of bizarre equipment. He gave her magazines and videos dedicated to all the different role play categories—teacher/naughty student, nurse/patient, policeman/prisoner, as well as other fetishes such as boots, stockings, diapers, lipstick, long fingernails, lace gloves, enemas…there were even men who were turned on by dwarves, tentacled creatures, women smoking cigarettes and blowing smoke in their faces, women chewing gum, women sleeping, or women with missing limbs or casts. For Eleanor, the sheer range and variety of male sexual fantasies was mind-boggling, yet fascinating at the same time. But what most surprised Eleanor was when Bernie told her that if she specialized in certain fetish categories—such as mistress/slave—she would never actually have to have sex with the clients. “You’re kidding me,” she said. “No, I’m serious. Pro-dommes don’t engage in sex at all.” “What’s a pro-domme?” “A professional dominatrix.” “And they don’t actually have sex with their clients?” Bernie shook his head. “If the guy wants to get off, he does it himself, and only with your permission. You don’t have to touch him or even watch. See, it’s part of a lot of the submissive male fantasy—the slave is not worthy of any type of sex with his mistress.” “Oh.” That was the tipping point for Eleanor. “When do I start?” * * * Bernie helped her find her first apartment to rent, in Fenway. He began sending her clients, one after another, married lawyers, doctors, and businessmen who laid down their cash like it was pocket change to have their kinky submissive fantasies acted out. She zeroed in on men who wanted to be dominated by a strong mistress and played whatever role they wanted her to play. Eleanor was a little suspicious of Bernie’s motives, at first, wondering why he was so willing to help her, but it didn’t take her long to figure out why: he was hand-crafting her for his own pleasure. It turned out that little Bernie Zimmerman harbored more fantasies and fetishes than all her other clients put together. Chapter 1.21 By the end of her third year in Boston, Eleanor had purchased a spectacular three bedroom condo in Brookline and was making even more money than Bernie had estimated. Not that her business expenses were insignificant—working as an independent, upscale pro-domme required a lot of special costumes and equipment, not to mention a steady supply of disposable items that could only be used once for hygienic reasons. The sound-proofed “playroom” in her a condo looked like some odd combination of a urologist’s office, a children’s nursery and a middle school classroom. Also, she spent a small fortune at beauty salons keeping herself physically pampered and sexy, and worked out every afternoon to keep her body toned. So many of her clients had breast fetishes she ended up getting a boob job from the best plastic surgeon in Boston, and that had cost plenty. Still, thanks to Bernie, she had an exclusive clientele that were more than willing to pay the steep prices she charged. The men were successful and powerful in real life, but for some reason wanted to be dominated and degraded by a strong woman. Eleanor really didn’t grasp the underlying psychology—she’d heard that most male subs had overbearing, strong-willed mothers—but she certainly learned to understand them on the surface level, even identify them at a distance. There was something about the look in their eyes, their posture, their general attitude, particularly when they were in the presence of a strong woman. Eleanor found that she could literally pick them out of a crowd if necessary. Thanks to Bernie, however, it was not necessary. She never had to approach prospective clients or advertise her services—all of her business was through word of mouth referrals, mostly from Bernie. This new, lucrative work was not only financially beneficial for Eleanor, but impacted her on a profound level, and in a surprising way. It did wonders for her self-confidence. At first, being dominant was just a role she played, and felt a bit awkward, especially with men who were old enough to be her father, or in a few cases, her grandfather. She learned to choose shoes and clothes which accentuated her height and, in contrast to most women, learned to wear her hair and apply makeup to make herself look older and colder. Yet, the more she played the role of dominatrix, the more self-assured she became overall. Not that Eleanor ever suffered from a lack of brashness, but she found that the number of people who could intimidate her, particularly males, began to rapidly shrink. After a while she grew so comfortable in her dominatrix persona that she could turn it on instantly, like flipping a switch. She found that in general she stood up straighter, moved with more certainty, and always looked people directly in the eye. She even thought her voice became a little deeper. She often wondered how she had ever let a sadistic bully like Slinga push her around. Nothing like that would ever happen again, that was for sure. * * * Despite Eleanor’s financial success in plying her unusual trade, at the end of the third year she began to feel restless, like she’d reached a plateau. There were only so many hours per week she could work. And there was more and more competition, so there was only so high a price she could charge per session or night, which put an upper cap on her income. She wanted more. Eleanor and Bernie had become so close that she felt comfortable enough to talk to him about it. “What, you’re not happy with this life?” he said, motioning around her luxurious living room. “Jesus Christ, you’re only twenty years old and you make more than I do!” “I work my ass off for every penny of that money, Bernie.” He sighed, shifting on the sofa, his own butt still smarting. He’d spent the better part of an hour strapped to her St. Andrew’s cross and she’d given him quite a flogging. “Yes, that you do.” “How am I ever going to have a normal family this way, Bernie? Children, a home…?” The truth was, she really didn’t give a damn about having a normal family. Her secret goal was to marry a super-wealthy man so she wouldn’t have to work at all and could spend as much money as she wanted. She didn’t merely want to be rich—she wanted to be obscenely wealthy, so damn loaded that she didn’t have to work at all, ever, or to worry about how much money she spent, ever! And she wanted the social connections that came with that kind of money. She longed to hobnob with the rich and famous on yachts in the Mediterranean, to dine with kings, to meet Hollywood movie stars and presidents. She sometimes wondered if she was setting her sights too high. As her days were mostly free, she would occasionally walk over to one of the parks in Beacon Hill and watch the young wealthy mothers sitting with their baby carriages chatting with each other about their “problems.” These lucky women had married into Boston’s old money—their husbands came from generations of aristocratic wealth. Their biggest worry was deciding which glitzy charity event to attend next weekend, and how much to donate, and whether they would fly to their villa in France or Martinique for the holidays. That’s the kind of money Eleanor wanted. That’s the kind of life Eleanor wanted. Seeing those mothers and children also made her think of her own twin babies, the ones she hadn’t even held in her arms. Now she felt a tinge of regret about abandoning them. “You’re talking about marrying into old money,” Bernie said, when she finally got the nerve to be completely open with him. “That’s pretty ambitious.” “What, you don’t think I could pull it off?” “I didn’t say that.” He studied her face as if he was seeing a new side of her. “You really think you’d be happy, married to some conservative, aristocratic blowhard?” He motioned towards the playroom. “After doing what you do?” “If he had enough money, I would. Anyway, I could find one who likes being dominated.” “No way,” Bernie said. “What do you mean? I’m sure there are plenty.” “I’m sure there are, too, that’s what they hire mistresses for. Those kind of men don’t marry women like that—they marry ‘nice girls.’ Plus, old money marries old money. They don’t venture outside of their upper-class social spheres to find wives. It’s too risky, there are too many gold diggers. Not to mention that you wouldn’t fit in with those upper crust types—you wouldn’t know how to act with them, what to say, how to behave.” He glanced towards the playroom again. “On top of all that, people from that strata would never marry any woman they didn’t already know without thoroughly investigating her past. They would leave no stone unturned, believe me.” Despite Bernie’s discouragement, Eleanor would not let go of the idea. Chapter 1.22 Les Fleurs lay in the middle of a vast property cocooned off from the rest of the world, roughly seven miles away from Paris in a suburb reserved for the upper crust of society. Jayne gazed out the window of the limousine, dumbstruck, as they approached the huge, two-storied building. The driveway that led up to it was lined on both sides by slender-stemmed, tall linden trees. It was only nine o’clock in the morning, and the sun’s rays filtered lazily through the branches and leaves. Trimmed square hedges and white balustrades surrounded the villa with its white-grilled windows and its pale yellow decoration. Four wide steps lead to the arched entrance. Jayne feasted her eyes on the imposing façade, and on the terrace on the ground floor with its embellished balustrade and the four columns lining the entrance. She counted four chimneys on the red-tiled, gabled roof. A hexagonal tower to the right side of the building drew her gaze, as the limo finally came to a stop in the gravel courtyard, which was adorned with marble statues. Jayne drank in the details, glancing around, then looking again at the imposing mansion itself. The interior designer side of her felt like a kid under the Christmas tree, wondering what treasures the inside of the old, classical building would hold. Eleanor, sitting next to her, smiled as if to say, “Impressed, my dear?” but of course said nothing. She was wearing a conservative black below-the-knee dress, a chocolate brown, full-length belted cashmere coat with a draped dollar, and black high heels. Jayne allowed the liveried chauffeur to open the door for her, and she stepped out of the limousine. She was wearing some of her sister’s best clothes: a beige knee-length, silk dress with a modest collar but adorned with a luxurious Givenchy silk scarf, in dusky rose. And matching heels. Eleanor told her this outfit would make her seem more ladylike. She was also wearing some thin beige gloves made of suede that she honestly didn't know what to do with. Now she was anxious. The servants were coming outside and one of them, a strong-looking young man who she assumed had to be Sean nodded politely to her. “So good to see you, Miss Celeste,” he said, in a British accent, and then, “Good afternoon, Lady Sotheby.” He picked up both their suitcases and carried them towards the grand-looking front entrance. Jayne had merely smiled at him, and she braced herself to meet the other five, who were standing there at attention in their uniforms, their hands behind their backs. “Welcome back, Milady.” “So nice to see you, Miss Celeste.” “Good afternoon, Lady Sotheby.” Two of them were French and the other three were British “imports”—Jayne smiled graciously and said hello to each one, praying she got all their names right. Apparently she had. “Well done,” Eleanor whispered. Jayne was pleased and felt a little less anxious. To Giles, Eleanor said, “We’ll stay out here for a moment and get some fresh air.” “Very well, Milady. Would you and Miss Celeste like some refreshments? Tea, or perhaps fresh lemonade?” “In a while,” she said. Giles nodded humbly. Sean took the suitcases inside, followed by Giles and the rest of the servants, leaving them alone in the courtyard. Eleanor laid a hand on Jayne’s shoulder and said, “Welcome to your new home, my dear. This is the pride—well, one of the prides—of the Sotheby’s.” She swept the area in an all-encompassing gesture, but her voice did not reflect pride. Clearly, to her all the splendor was a given. Motioning to huge white flower pots and orderly rows of flower beds, she added, “And these are what give Les Fleurs its name.” They strolled around the courtyard for a few minutes, and then stepped through the double-winged doors into the actual mansion. Jayne was stunned by the splendor but did not allow herself to gaze at anything around her, keeping her eyes on Eleanor. On the pretense of wanting to inspect everything after a long stay away, her mother made a tour of the building, with Jayne at her side. It was all Jayne could do to not gasp and cry “Oh how beautiful!” as she would have done under any other circumstances. Details of the interior registered with Jayne while they wound their way through the mansion. Chandeliers with a myriad of candle-like light bulbs, hanging ceremoniously from the high ceilings. Mosaic-patterned tiles on the floors, richly decorated Persian carpets in other rooms. Gilded, heavy brocade curtains with golden tassels. Old-fashioned sofas and low couches. Canopied beds, lacquered wooden furniture, valuable antiques coming together in impossibly large rooms. Jayne could identify most of the items because of her studies, and it added to the awe. She had only seen pictures of them in textbooks, never in real life. Just one of the gold-framed paintings, just one marble bust or the contents of one china cabinet would cost more than she could ever afford. Moving up the grand staircase with red-carpeted, creaking steps, they circled the first floor, where Eleanor finally saw Jayne off to her room. “I’ll leave you here to freshen up,” she said. In a lowered voice, she said, “My room is just down the hall, on the left.” “Yes, I remember,” Jayne whispered. “Thank you!” The bedroom was more of a lavish suite with an attached bathroom that was bigger than the kitchen in her mom’s house Unconsciously, Jayne stepped out of her tan high-heeled shoes and wandered around the room in her air-thin stockings, relishing the feel of the cold, hard, light and dark brown tiles alternating with the padded softness of the warm-colored carpet at places. She walked to the window and glanced out at the stretch of manicured lawn dotted liberally with lindens and cypress tress. In the distance, she caught sight of the octagonal white tea pavilion, and the beauty of it made her smile again. Turning, she leaned against the window sill and took in the details of her room. This was apparently Celeste’s bedroom, the one she had grown up in, but there was very little evidence of that. No pictures on the dresser mirror, no stuffed animals, or anything of that nature. Eleanor had explained that they had put all Celeste’s “childhood knick-knacks” in storage, as due to the large weekend parties and charity events, they needed to use it as a guest bedroom. And apparently Celeste did not come home very often to visit, anyway. The room was indeed grand. The royal-looking four-poster bed with its rose-colored, neatly gathered curtains made Jayne’s smile widen. She’d feel like a nine-year-old princess sleeping in it. Not only the bed, all of it was a fairytale—one without witches or evil stepmothers but definitely one with a charming prince. Thinking of Robert’s impending arrival tomorrow morning sent a jolt of nervousness through Jayne, and the fairly-tale like feeling disappeared. She began to worry again about what she would say to him when they met, how she would react to meeting him in person, and how he would affect her emotionally. For the past two days she had kept thinking of the photo of him sitting in front of the fireplace in the gray turtleneck sweater, and his dark, penetrating eyes. He’s absolutely off limits, she reminded herself at one point, when for one split second she forgot her purpose in meeting with him. Jayne was also bothered by the conversation that had taken place yesterday, when Celeste had gotten worried and suggested to their mother that it might be better if she met Robert herself “this time.” Jayne again wondered if Celeste was feeling jealous that Jayne was meeting with him rather than her. It would only be natural, but Jayne did not know exactly what to do about it. Also, Eleanor’s sharp reaction to Celeste’s suggestion was puzzling—Jayne got the feeling that Eleanor didn’t trust Celeste to meet with Robert now, and actually had more faith in Jayne’s ability to maintain an even keel with Robert and keep the engagement and wedding plans intact, as if she thought Celeste might mess it up, somehow. This made Jayne feel a little strange, and certainly increased the pressure to perform well. With an uneasy sigh, Jayne stepped to her suitcase and started unpacking. She’d need to get settled down as soon as possible, and that didn’t just involve filling the cupboards and shelves with the few personal belongings she had brought with her. How would they proceed now? Picking a comfortable skirt and a light sweatshirt—and wishing she could wear jeans or track pants instead—Jayne wondered how much she’d have to cram into her head before the day was over. She thought of Eleanor’s ominous warning from a few hours ago. “Remember, my dear, from today on we will not be alone. At the villa and everywhere else you go, the walls have eyes and ears. I will rarely be able to talk to you openly, and you need to make sure you have your behavior under control. Only in my room and your room can we feel safe to communicate.” Jayne shook off the feeling of unease. True, the servants complicated things, but they would also be a useful and constant reminder that she wasn’t herself anymore but her sister’s mirror image. A clone, bred to serve a significant purpose, she thought wryly. She was pulling back the intricately embroidered and surprisingly heavy bedspread to inspect what lay beneath when her cell phone signaled a message. Walking over to the desk where she had set her handbag, she took the shiny new “designer” smartphone out—Eleanor had presented her with one of those, too, this morning. After glancing at the sparkling little stones on the cover that symbolized her new life now, she checked and found an SMS from Celeste. Hey little sister, have you arrived? Jayne stared at the sentence on the screen, then glanced down at her left hand. She was now wearing Celeste’s engagement ring, as the house staff, as well as Robert, of course, would be expecting it. The moment Celeste had pulled the ring off her finger and handed it to Jayne had been a little awkward. She was both pleased and relieved to see the friendly tone of her twin’s message. She tapped out a reply. Hey, sis. Just getting settled here. Still feels unreal. Everything’s so impressive. Before she could put the phone down, an answer appeared. You’ll get used to it. Just look bored and distant and let everyone do your work for you. Jayne smiled, shaking her head. How on earth would she manage to fake boredom when she felt as excited as a child at her first county fair, when she wanted to touch every glittering object and explore every inch of the property? Another message demanded attention. Btw, I texted Robert your new number. Told him I had to change mine. From now on, he’ll contact you directly. Jayne swallowed. Well, that made sense, but the thought of receiving a voice call from him made her palms sweat. She typed a reply to the last text. Thank you, have to go now. Just as she clicked the SEND button, the sound and feeling of the phone ringing in her hand startled her into nearly dropping it. Robert’s name flashed on the screen before her eyes, and her pulse hammered faster. Oh my God…he was already calling! You can do this, she told herself, as the phone rang again. Instinctively straightening her posture though he couldn’t see her, Jayne worked up her nerve and answered the call. “Hello?” Her voice sounded strange to her, as if she had already morphed into her twin sister. “Celeste! Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for hours.” Oh, no, she groaned inwardly. His voice was as alluring as his photo. No, even more alluring! Hearing him speak in that cultured British accent caused a tingly feeling deep inside. There was a deep, velvety quality to his voice and just a hint of annoyance that added male bravado to it. She found herself speechless, engulfed by that awful tongue-tied feeling. “Celeste?” Dammit, she needed to get her act together. “Robert, I—I’m sorry. I had the phone on silent and completely forgot to check it.” There, that hadn’t been so difficult, had it? Though saying his name did funny things to her stomach. “Exhausted from the holiday, are we?” the heady voice on the other end of the line joked, and she felt giddy. Instead of waiting for a reaction, Robert went on, “I just wanted to let you know I arrived in Paris a day earlier than I planned. Shall we meet for brunch this morning?” Jayne was paralyzed. “This…this morning?” “Yes….” Swallowing back her nerves, Jayne plunged ahead, “Uh, sure, that sounds great. Where shall we meet?” “Actually I’m on the way over to Les Fleurs right now. Will be there in half an hour.” Half an hour? Jayne thought, her blood pressure so high she could hear her heart thumping in her ears. “What about the Café de la Paix? I’ve heard their Sunday’s brunch is the best in Paris.” “Oh yes…yes, that’s a good idea,” Jayne replied, praying that it really was. At least he’d meet her in a public place first, where she could try to get a hang of being with him, and a grip on herself. “Right, then. I’ll make a reservation as soon as I hang up.” Jayne remained silent, unsure of what to say next. Would Celeste ask him a million questions right now, or expect him to be doing so? She didn’t want to come across like a moron, so she finally asked, “I hope you had a pleasant trip?” “Yes, I did, thank you. Did you and your mother fly up from Nice this morning or last night?” “This morning.” There was a long silence. “You sound a little strange, darling. Are you all right?” “I’m fine. Still a little tired from that awful bout of the flu.” “Oh, I’m so sorry, that must have been an ordeal. I wish I could have called you more, but the region where we’re building the factory in China is so remote…I…” He paused. “Celeste?” “Yes?” For a moment, she had the distinct feeling he wanted to say something important, but he settled for a simple, “I’ll see you in a little while then.” As an afterthought, he added, “It will be good to see you again after so long, I’m really looking forward to it.” Jayne fought to keep her voice steady. “Yes, me, too. Bye, Robert.” “Goodbye, Celeste.” Staring at the phone in her hand, she gasped, “He’ll be here in half an hour!” and she frantically began unpacking her suitcase, trying to find everything she would need for the outfit she planned to wear. * * * Thirty minutes later, Jayne was standing in front of the mirror in her sister’s bedroom, putting on final touches of makeup. Eleanor was standing behind her, supervising. “Perhaps a little less lip gloss?” Jayne made an adjustment. “Yes. Perfect.” Eleanor stood back, her arms crossed, calmly looking Jayne up and down. She did not seem overly concerned about Robert showing up one day early. “You look stunning, dear.” “Really?” “Absolutely.” Jayne stood back from the mirror, trembling, peering at her reflection. Or rather, Celeste’s reflection. Eleanor had chosen a white silk dress with a black satin sash at the waist, one that belonged to Celeste, which Robert had complimented her on when they were together last year. There was also a white summer hat to go with it, and a black leather Gucci handbag. Someone knocked at the bedroom door. Jayne was so keyed up she nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound. Surely Robert wouldn’t come straight to her bedroom! Eleanor went over and opened it. Giles was standing there in his butler’s uniform. “Excuse the intrusion, Milady. Mr. Robert Astor is waiting for Miss Celeste down in the drawing room.”


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