Disclaimers: See Part 1
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Copyright Ann McMan, May 2011. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
Heathrow Airport at 9:00 a.m. on a weekday was choked with bored and weary-looking business travelers.
Evan walked toward a beefy customs agent with a handlebar moustache, who stood, akimbo, next to a row of blaze-orange stanchions. He met her eyes as she approached, then briefly lowered his gaze to take in her black messenger bag. She had been counting as she drew closer to the screening area—customs agents appeared to tagging every seventh passenger. By her count, she was number six. The portly man in tweed behind her, who had wheezed his way across the Atlantic , was going to have to wait just a tad longer for his next cigarette.
It took her 20 minutes to reach baggage claim, and another 20 to retrieve her suitcase and make her way to ground transportation. The air outside the terminal was heavy and dense. The sky was gunmetal gray. It wasn't raining, but it had been. Every exposed surface was wet. It was cold, too. She pulled the open ends of her jacket together and took a deep breath.
Yeah. She was back in England .
Evan hadn't been to London for nearly two years—but she knew the city well. She'd spent a year living here as an undergraduate, studying research methods at the University of London, and doing an internship at the British Museum. She had returned several years later, during a hiatus from graduate school, for a six-week stay with her former host family. She was pregnant by that time, and her accompanying feelings of confusion and desperation led her to seek out the only place besides her grandfather's farm where she ever felt grounded.
Her “host parents,” Michael and Susan Shore , were a steady and practical couple who ran an upscale hostel that overlooked the Thames , near Hampton Court . Evan had been one of four international university students who billeted with them for a year during college—and she was the only one who hailed from the U.S.
The Shore family lived modestly. Their two teenaged children were vivacious and irreverent, but were happy and devoted to their parents. Evan recalled watching their familial interactions with fascination. During the first few months of her stay, she felt like a visitor from another planet—observing the curious behaviors of an alien species. Members of the Shore family talked with one another. They expressed interest and curiosity about each other's lives. They took their meals together. They even ate sitting down— on chairs .
Evan found the typical, teenaged antics of the Shore children captivating. She was mesmerized by the easy camaraderie and trust they shared with their adult counterparts. Observing them, she began to understand that there were other paradigms for how families could function. Motherhood, as Susan Shore practiced it, began to look less like a lifetime prison sentence with no promise of parole.
Evan had already decided to have the baby when she traveled to London to recover from the shock of discovering that she was pregnant. Her conservative Catholic values had already reared their biased heads and strong-armed her into that decision. It was the quiet and constant example set by Susan Shore that convinced her, ultimately, to keep the baby.
So keep her, she did.
She had since been back twice, with Stevie, to visit the hostel that now loomed so large on the landscape of her emotional horizon. Stevie loved the Shore family nearly as much as Evan did, and found their home to be an easy and unaffected oasis of calm in an otherwise chaotic world.
Evan was returning to London in trouble once again. She was tempted to smile at the irony. But this time, she doubted that even the wise and steady counsel of the Shore family would be enough to rescue her.
Her grandfather would say that she was up to her ass in alligators. It was a colossal mess.
She didn't know any more details about Julia's condition. She didn't know if her injuries were minor or life threatening. She didn't know if Andy or Julia's parents planned on traveling to London to be with her. She didn't know if Julia was even in a position to want anyone with her. And she certainly didn't know how the publisher would react to Evan showing up uninvited, like some kind of heartsick puppy.
She only knew that it didn't make sense for her to continue stand outside the terminal at Heathrow Airport in the cold while she deliberated. She needed to keep moving—even if it was in the wrong direction.
Normally, she would take a bus into central London , and navigate her way from there. But she was in no mood to waste any more time waiting, so she hailed one of the omnipresent black cabs, and gave the driver the address of the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea . He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as he switched off his for-hire light, and hopped out to stash her suitcase in the boot of the cab. Evan noticed that he was of Indian or Pakistani descent, and that reminded her again of her fractious interaction with the former Maya Jindal.
She wondered what Maya would think about her behavior now—flying off, literally, on some ill-fated fool's errand.
She was a sap, and she knew it. But she couldn't deny her need to be here. The chips would fall where they would fall—but Evan needed to see Julia. She needed to see her and she needed to touch her—just one more time, before she walked away from her for good.
The cab exited the airport campus and turned onto the M4. Evan noticed that it had started to rain again. Fat drops hit the cab and rolled across the windows like dollops of paint.
Who was she kidding? She needed to see Julia once more—be certain that she was alive and well—before Julia could walk away from her . That's really what this trip was all about.
“You want to run,” Julia said to her, the morning after they had spent the night together.
Well. Here she was—traveling halfway around the globe to do just that.
It was crazy and counterintuitive. It was beyond sense and reason. It was vintage Evan.
The cab continued to eat up the miles as it rolled past fields and hedgerows. The rain was falling harder now. Evan stared out the window at a watery blur of green and gray—until the landscape began to morph into the red brick and white painted patchwork of towns. The driver exited the M4 and drove along narrow streets, lined with houses that had mullioned windows and gauzy curtains. Lorries, buses, and cabs began to outnumber cars as they drew closer to London .
Evan's stomach growled, and she realized that she hadn't eaten anything since lunchtime yesterday. She'd had no appetite on the long plane ride. The vodka she'd drunk at home last night had long since fled her system, but left her insides feeling flat and sour.
She pulled her cell phone out of her messenger bag and scrolled through her backlog of text messages until she found the last one she'd received from Julia—the one she'd sent it to Evan on Monday night, after her first full day in England .
Long, but uneventful trip. Merger talks with Waverly going well. Weather is lousy. English landscape reminds me of the cows in Chadds Ford, and one other thing I find myself missing.
Evan ran her fingers back and forth over the smooth screen of her phone, wishing she could feel the sentiment behind the letters. Wishing she could feel anything besides the fear and hopelessness that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in the pit of her stomach.
They were inside the city limits now. The hospital wasn't far away now. Evan glanced at her watch and realized that she needed to reset it to GMT. She pulled it off her wrist and advanced the hands five hours. It was nearly 11:30. Jesus. Ten hours to cross five time zones.
The driver turned onto a wide avenue lined with what looked like identical, white office buildings. He slowed as they reached the center of the block, and turned right into the main entrance of the imposing red brick Royal Marsden Hospital . He pulled to a stop in front of a stone entryway, and half-turned in his seat to face her.
“ Marsden Hospital . Okay?”
Evan nodded. “Thank you.”
He gestured toward the meter. £68. Christ.
Evan dug her credit card and a £10 note out of her bag and passed them both up to him. “I appreciate the ride—I know it was a long distance to travel.”
He took the cash and the card and smiled at her. “No problem.”
After he swiped the card, he hopped out of the cab and unloaded her single suitcase from the boot. Then he nodded at her, climbed back into the car, and drove off.
Evan stood there for a moment, staring up the steps at the large glass doors that led into the lobby of the hospital. She took a few deep breaths before grasping the handle of her bag, and walking the final few yards of her 3,500-mile journey.
Evan's inquiry about patient Julia Donne met with blank looks and no information. She was handed off to the head sister in short order, and she fought to stifle her panic as she approached the nurse's station that was just down the hall from the reception area. The middle-aged woman who met her there looked Evan up and down, taking in the black roller bag she was pulling along behind her.
“Are you a family member?” she asked. It was more like an accusation than a question.
“Yes,” Evan lied.
The sister glanced again at Evan's suitcase.
“I only just arrived from the U.S. ,” Evan explained. “I came straight here from the airport.”
The sister looked dubious, but sighed as she rifled through a stack of charts piled on top of the counter.
“Miss Donne was discharged over an hour ago.” She looked up at Evan over the rim of her wire-framed glasses. “Since you're a family member, you'll already have her home address.”
Bitch. “Yes, thank you.”
The sister started to turn away, but Evan stopped her. “Can you tell me anything about her condition?”
The sister looked at her without emotion. “Only that she was well enough to be discharged. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have patients to attend to.”
Jesus, Evan thought. Let's hear it for the National Health. Or maybe she just doesn't like Americans.
“Thank you for your time.” Evan turned away and walked slowly back toward the main entrance. Great. Now I have to find her London address.
On the other hand, there was a lot to feel good about—if Julia had been discharged, then she must not have been seriously hurt. She felt some of her anxiety begin to subside. Exhaustion stepped forward to take up the slack.
She walked over to a bench near the lobby doors and sat down, pulling her cell phone out of her bag. She pulled up Julia's last text message again. Bingo. Waverly . She connected to the hospital's WiFi network, and did a quick Internet search for publishers named “Waverly” in London . Only one came up: Waverly Monographs, on New Oxford Street . Then she looked up the names of several florists in the vicinity.
She punched in the phone number for the publisher, and waited until a sotto-voiced receptionist answered.
“Hallo,” Evan explained, using her best British accent. “I'm calling from Jamie Aston Flowers on Great Portland Street . We've got a slew of bouquets for a Miss Julia Donne, and only just got word from Royal Marsden that's she's no longer in hospital. The sister there told us we could get a delivery address from you.”
“Of course,” the voice on the phone said. “One moment please, and I'll get that for you straight-away.” She put Evan on hold.
Score , Evan thought.
After a minute, the woman came back on the line. “Ms. Donne's residence is at Number 12 Brook Street, Mayfair .”
Evan rolled her eyes. Of course it is.
“Thanks so much, luv,” she said. “We'll get this lot straight out to her.” She hung up.
Christ. Brook Street —right in the middle of Grosvenor Square . How rich is this fucking family?
She sat there, weighing her options. She could find a hotel first, and then call Julia. She could just show up at her doorstep, and hope for the best. Or she could call another cab and hightail it back to Heathrow.
The last option was sounding like the best one to her. She felt ridiculous. And exhausted. Her stomach growled again. She needed food, and she needed sleep. And then, she needed to have her head examined. She closed her eyes.
When her cell phone began to vibrate, she nearly dropped it in surprise. She looked down at the display. She had an incoming text message—from Julia.
Hello, you. Odd tidings. I was involved in a horrible hit and run accident last night. I'm shaken, but okay. Give me a call? I'm at the flat today, so don't worry about when. Don't worry about anything. Just call when you can. Love, Julia
She held the phone against her forehead. Grosvenor Square . She could take the tube and get off at Bond Street .
She stood up and walked toward the exit. When she got outside, she noticed that it had stopped raining.
As it happened, Julia's flat at Number 12 Brook Street was just a block away from the homes of Jimi Hendrix and Georg Frideric Handel. In typical fashion, the Donne family had chosen well—and Evan thought the odds were pretty good that this quirk of geography would make the market value of their small piece of real estate soar beyond all comprehension. It was odd to think that compositions like Messiah and Purple Haze had been composed in back-to-back townhouses that were separated from one another by a measly six inches of plaster.
But that was London —a city of contradictions.
She'd opted for another cab, after all. She was too tired to drag her suitcase through the throngs of pedestrian traffic on the streets, and have didn't have the stamina to wrestle it up and down the endless banks of escalators that led to and from the trains in the Underground stations.
The cab deposited her in front of Number 12, and she took the stairs from the street that led to the upstairs apartment units. Julia's family occupied Flat A, the front unit that overlooked the street. Evan saw the name Donne etched into a brass plate on the upstairs directory. It looked like it had been there for some time. She wondered which member of the publisher's family had originally purchased the residence.
She stopped in front of an unassuming wooden door and tried to compose herself. After standing there for a full minute, she realized that nothing in her demeanor seemed likely to improve—so she gave up and pushed the buzzer.
She heard the sound of footsteps, then the door opened, and Julia filled the narrow space.
They stood there staring at each other—like statues in some bizarre tableaux. Julia's eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped. She looked confused. Then stunned. Evan noticed that she had a large bruise on the right side of her face, but she appeared to be all right otherwise. At least, she didn't seem to be sporting any obvious bandages or casts. She was wearing what looked like yoga pants and a loose-fitting tunic top. Even with the purple bruise covering part of her face, she looked gorgeous. Evan stole a quick glance at her feet. Barefoot. What was it about Julia and shoes?
She didn't have much time to ponder that before Julia reached out and grabbed her by the lapels of her jacket. The next thing she knew, her face was full of lavender-scented shoulder and Julia's arms were wrapped around her back, holding her tightly.
“I can't believe it. I can't believe you're here . Oh, my god.”
Evan raised her own arms and hugged her gently—she didn't want to hurt her, and she worried that Julia might have other injuries that didn't show.
“Dan called me,” she explained. “He said that Andy asked him to.” She started to draw back, but Julia still held her fast. “I had to come. I would've gone crazy worrying.” She turned her face into Julia's neck and inhaled. It's her. She's alive. She's fine.
And I feel like an idiot.
“I'm sorry to just show up like this,” she apologized. “I should've tried to call you first—get more information about your condition.
Julia just hugged her tighter. She felt a kiss on the side of head. “Don't be ridiculous. I was terrified. I wanted you —I just didn't know how to ask.” She finally drew back so she could meet Evan's eyes. Her own looked glassy. “The hospital called Andy—it was an automatic, next-of-kin thing. I was unconscious when they admitted me.”
Evan raised a hand and carefully touched the side of her face. “I went there, first.”
“Yeah. They told me you had just been discharged.”
Julia took hold of her hand as she lowered it. “Come inside.”
Evan grabbed the handle of her suitcase and pulled it behind her into the flat. Julia closed the door behind them. This place was far less spacious than the New York apartment—still elegant, but less formal. Maybe it was the scale? Or the intimacy of the smaller rooms? Evan decided that she liked it.
It smelled like fresh coffee. Evan was tempted to keep moving and follow her nose toward the tantalizing smell. She'd now been up for 21 hours. She turned around to say as much, but ran right into a soft and warm wall of Julia, who pulled her into her arms again.
“Thank you. Thank you for being here.”
Evan just nodded. She didn't really trust herself to speak. She figured the odds were pretty good that she'd say something stupid. So she just stood there, with her faced pressed into Julia's sternum. God. Even barefoot, the woman was half a foot taller.
Evan felt a mouth moving across her hair—then along the side of her face. When Julia's lips reached hers, she gave up on her clumsy attempts at caution. Julia didn't seem to mind.
They spent a couple of minutes getting reacquainted.
Evan's emotions were on overload from anxiety and exhaustion. She suspected that Julia's were about the same. They began to sway as they stood there, hanging on to each other.
Evan drew her face away. “We need to sit down.” She was out of breath, and her voice sounded husky.
Julia pulled her close again. “I don't want to let go of you.”
“You don't have to let go of me. But if we don't sit down someplace, you'll have to carry me.”
She felt Julia smile. “I could do that.”
“I don't doubt it.”
Julia released her and stepped back. “Come on, then. I just made some coffee—would you like some?”
Evan nodded. “That's probably a good idea. I need to stay conscious for a while longer—I still have to find a hotel.”
Julia walked into her small kitchen. It opened into the main living area of the flat. She turned around and looked at Evan. “Don't be ridiculous. You can stay here with me.”
“Julia—” she began.
“Evan. You flew halfway around the world to be with me—so why not actually be with me?” She paused for a moment. “I want you here. Please. Stay with me.”
Evan sighed. So much for best-laid plans. “All right.”
Julia smiled and poured their coffee.
Evan grew suspicious. “Do you always get your way?”
“ Get my way, or have my way?”
Evan rolled her eyes. “Oh, I already know the answer to that one.” She took off her jacket and hung it on the handle of her suitcase. Then, she walked over to the sofa and flopped down. Big mistake. The thing was too comfortable. She didn't see herself getting back up anytime soon. She followed suit with her hostess, and kicked off her shoes.
Julia joined her and set their coffee cups down on a glass-topped coffee table.
Evan turned to face her. The light pouring in from the front windows of the flat illuminated her blue eyes, and made the purple bruise on her face look even more pronounced. Evan raised a hand and touched it gently.
“Tell me what happened.”
Julia leaned her face into Evan's hand.
“It was horrible. James, my driver, was killed.” She shook her head. “He has a wife—two children.” She raised a hand to her mouth. “ God .”
Evan pulled her into her arms. “I'm so sorry.”
Julia relaxed against her and took a moment to compose herself. Evan was amazed at how natural it felt to hold her—almost like they'd done this hundreds of times before. She stroked her long hair. It felt soft and thick, like Stevie's.
Julia started talking again. Quietly.
“We were on our way here—from a late meeting on the South Bank. It was a van—it came out of nowhere and hit our car. We skidded across the opposing lane and went over a low wall near the London Eye. The car rolled over and stopped against a tree. I was wearing my seatbelt…I don't know why. I think that saved me. James wasn't moving. I remember calling out to him before I lost consciousness—but the car was on its side, and I couldn't get out of my seatbelt. I guess I passed out after that. The next thing I knew, I woke up in the hospital at Chelsea . They told me James was dead—that he'd been killed instantly.” She shook her head. “I was bruised and had a concussion, but I was okay. They kept me overnight for observation. Then Marshall Waverly was kind enough to escort me back here, after I was discharged. He only just left a few minutes before you arrived.”
Jesus. “What about the lorry?”
Julia shook her head. “I don't know. The driver didn't stop.”
“Did the police come and talk with you?”
Julia nodded. “Yes. But I couldn't remember anything useful—it all happened so fast.”
“Did you notice what color it was? Whether or not it had any writing on it?”
“Blue? It was blue, maybe—or some other light color. I don't remember it having any writing on it—but it might have. I only saw a flash of it before it hit us.”
“That's okay. Maybe there were eyewitnesses who saw something.”
She felt Julia shrug. “Maybe. But it was so late in the evening—well past dark. I don't think there would have been much pedestrian traffic at that hour.”
Evan felt her sigh and shift even closer. She ran a hand gently up and down her back. “It doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're okay.”
“And that you're here with me.”
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the traffic on the street below the front windows. There was a clock ticking someplace inside the flat. The heater cut on and off. Evan knew that if she stayed in this position much longer, she'd fall asleep. Against her chest, Julia's breathing began to deepen. She was drifting off, too. Evan supposed that she didn't sleep much last night, either.
Their untouched cups of coffee sat cooling on the table in front of them. Evan sank further back against the fat pillows on the sofa. It felt wonderful. Julia stretched out, too—half on top of her. She was taking slow, even breaths now. Evan thought for the hundredth time about the question Tim asked her after she'd spent the night with Julia in New York . It pissed her off at the time, but she knew that was because the enormity of her response shocked and scared her.
It still scared her. But lying to herself was a worse option than facing the truth. Even if the truth would eventually end up biting her on the ass.
She yawned and resettled her arms around Julia.
Facing the truth doesn't make you vulnerable— concealing it does. How many times had she told Stevie that? People got into trouble when they became too invested in keeping their secrets secret. Maya was Andy's secret. And Marcus? God knew what he was hiding? And what about Julia? Was Evan now Julia's secret to keep?
She yawned again, and closed her eyes. She couldn't really do anything about that. Not right now. All she could do was thank god that the woman now asleep on top of her was alive and safe. That's what this mixed-up trip was really all about.
Well. That and one other thing she needed to admit—at least to herself.
“I love you,” she whispered into a maze of dark hair. Everything else could wait.
She was dropping off when she heard a sleepy voice beneath her mutter, “I love you, too.”
When Evan woke up several hours later, the first thing she noticed was that the flat was nearly dark. Only a few narrow slashes of light were creeping in around the blinds on the front windows that overlooked Brook Street below. The second thing she noticed was how stiff her back was from sleeping so long in such a cramped position. The third thing she noticed was how strangely familiar it felt to have Julia draped across her like a human blanket.
Then her stomach growled. Loudly. After a few seconds, it growled again.
Julia stirred on top of her. “Is that you?”
“I'm afraid so. I'm sorry. I haven't really eaten since….” When was it? “Since sometime yesterday.”
“Well, I think we need to fix that.” Julia lifted her head from Evan's chest. “Don't you?”
Evan smiled. With her mussed-up hair and her sleepy blue eyes, she looked like a teenager.
“Are you offering to cook for me?”
“Do you really want me to?”
“I'm actually hungry enough to risk it.”
Julia swatted her on the arm before sitting up. “Be careful what you wish for.”
“I generally am.” Evan sat up, too.
Julia yawned and ran her hands through her dark hair. “My god. How long did we sleep?”
“I don't know.” Evan glanced at her watch. “About three hours?”
Julia shook her head. Then she looked at Evan and smiled again. “You make a great pillow.”
“Thanks. I was just thinking the same nice thoughts about you.”
Julia smiled and stood up. “Why don't we go raid the fridge, and see if we can cobble together something edible?”
Evan stood up too, and followed her into the small, open kitchen. Julia switched on some lights as she made her way across the flat.
“That could work. I'm pretty good at making unlikely combinations work.”
“Oh really?” Julia laughed and gave her a suggestive look. “Is this some kind of epiphany?”
Evan blushed. “That isn't really what I meant.”
“I know.” Julia stepped toward her and kissed her on the temple. God, the woman smelled great. “But I'll take comfort in your innocent boast, just the same.”
Evan was still embarrassed. Her stomach lurched, and she suddenly remembered saying “I love you” to Julia before they fell asleep. What a schmuck . She wondered if Julia remembered it, too. She wondered if Julia remembered saying it back.
She was too uneasy to ask. Instead, she stepped toward the fridge and pulled the door open.
“So, whatcha got in this thing?”
Julia was pulling a couple of plates out of an overhead cabinet. “I think it's your normal, Central London takeaway fare.”
There was a bowl of Greek salad, and a clear plastic box that contained flat slabs of what looked like Mediterranean pizza. Another container held some crusty, fried somethings. Evan pulled that one out and opened it. She looked up at Julia in surprise.
“This looks like pakora.”
“It is. Eggplant, I think.”
“But you said you hated Indian food.”
Julia shrugged. “I do. Did .” She smiled at Evan again. “I'm trying to broaden my horizons.”
Evan couldn't hide her smile. “If you develop too much of a taste for these, you'll soon be broadening more than your horizons. I have to threaten my daughter with death and dismemberment to get her to eat things that aren't batter-dipped and fried.”
Julia laughed. “There's not much danger of that. I tend not to obsess about things.”
“I've noticed.” Evan pulled all three of the containers out of the fridge and placed them on the small bar that separated the kitchen from the sitting room. “How do you stay so composed?”
“Well, yeah. I'd say you're pretty composed. Balanced. Moderate.” Evan shrugged. “You seem so freakishly centered that I wonder sometimes why you're dabbling around with— this .” She wagged an index finger back and forth between them.
Julia gave her a confused look and imitated her gesture. “This?”
“Yeah. This . Us.”
Julia rolled her eyes.
“No. Come on. Really. Why, Julia?”
“Why what? Why do I find you attractive—or why am I allowing myself to act on the fact that I find you attractive?”
Julia laughed, and Evan knew she probably was blushing again. It wasn't like her to be so fucking coy. She hauled up one of the padded stools and dropped down on it.
“Forgive me for being so pathetic. I blame sleep deprivation and the lingering effects of the bottle of Belvedere I killed 36 hours ago.”
“You're not pathetic. You're adorable.”
Evan covered her hot face with her hands. “Stop it. This isn't helping.”
Julia crossed over to the opposite side of the bar and leaned forward, resting her weight on her forearms. Her face was inches away.
“What would help?”
Evan dropped her hands and met her eyes. Big mistake. Jesus . She really was in too deep.
“I have no idea.”
“How about we start with this?” Julia kissed her. It took a minute. When they finished, she drew back and rested her forehead against Evan's. “Then we eat something, and go to bed.”
“Okay.” She was too tired to argue—even with herself.
Julia smiled and stood back up. “I'm going to heat up some of everything. Want to set the table?” She gestured to the small dining area behind them.
“Sure.” Evan collected the plates and silverware and carried them over to the table. It was mahogany—probably Regency, and probably authentic. It had four large chairs and a matching sideboard, covered with framed photographs.
Evan picked one up and examined it.
“Are these your parents?” she asked. The photo showed a very attractive elderly couple, standing together in what looked like part of the Tuileries Garden in Paris .
From the kitchen, Julia craned her neck to see what Evan was looking at.
“Yes. In Paris —where they live now.”
Evan placed the photo back in its spot. “They certainly look— impressive .”
She heard Julia chuckle. “That's a diplomatic way to describe them.”
She said something else, but the sound of the microwave drowned it out.
There were other photos, too—some of a much younger Julia with her parents, and some of Julia's father with other, sturdy-looking business men. There also were several photos of Julia with Andy. An obvious wedding photo showed the two of them looking young and happy—dressed to the nines, and posing with Julia's parents in front of City Hall in New York . There were a couple of travel pictures. One showed Julia and Andy on the polished wood deck of a sailboat in some exotic location. Another showed them in front of the Roman Coliseum, leaning against the back of an open sports car. A third photo had been taken on a skiing holiday—they posed with another couple, probably in Switzerland . That one caught her eye. She didn't realize that Julia was a skier, too.
“You like to ski?” she asked, picking the photo up.
Julia was walking toward her now, carrying a platter of steaming food, and a bowl of salad.
“Not so much. But Andy loves it.” She set the food down and walked over to stand beside Evan. “These aren't my photos. My parents use this flat more than I do.”
Evan looked at her.
“You don't owe me any explanation. I know you're married—and I know that, at one time, it was a choice that worked for you.”
Julia nodded and gave Evan a sad-looking smile. “I think you might be the only one who understands that.”
“It only matters that you understand it.” She started to set the photo back down when something in the picture caught her eye. Jesus Christ . She looked at Julia, and then she looked back at the photograph. Her hand started to shake.
This was not happening. It had to be some kind of perverse coincidence.
Andy was posing with one arm looped around Julia's shoulders. His other arm was wrapped around a pair of bright yellow skis. Bright yellow K2 skis with the word “Apache” stenciled across them.
Fuck. Jesus H. fucking Christ .
Long after Julia had fallen asleep, Evan lay awake staring at murky patterns in the shadows on the pressed tin ceiling. It was raining again. She could hear water running along the eaves trough outside, over the bedroom windows. Brook Street was quiet. The traffic had all but subsided.
Julia slept with her head on Evan's shoulder. An arm and a leg were spread across her torso like tethers. She couldn't escape if she wanted to—and right now, she didn't want to—at least, not from Julia. The rest of this burgeoning mess, however? Hell. She'd lay a patch putting all of that behind her.
She didn't tell Julia about the skis.
The truth was that she didn't know for certain if it even meant anything, other than underscoring the fact that Andy Townsend had expensive tastes. She took a deep breath. Julia's body rose and fell with it. Shit. The best example of Andy's expensive tastes now lay comatose on top of her. She didn't need any more proof of it.
But what about the goddamn skis? What if it had been Andy who had accompanied Tom Sheridan up to Loge Peak that day? What if it had been Andy who had swapped skis with the inebriated Congressman? What if Andy's sexual relationship with Margo began before Tom's death? What if Tom found out about it and confronted him?
And what happened to the skis when Steve Kilgore found Tom's body? Did Margo claim them with Tom's other effects? Were they still sitting in some Pitkin County impound locker? Had they been sold at public auction?
And, more importantly, did Andy still have his pair of the bright yellow K2s?
And what about Marcus? Why had he been in Aspen that weekend? Was it possible that the story he told Evan was the truth? Was he simply out there, in his home state, on a fishing expedition for the party—trying to flesh-out Andy's level of interest in running for Art Jacobsen's senate seat?
Christ. It was all such a fucking quagmire—and she kept sinking deeper into it.
And there was one other thing. However it came about, Tom Sheridan's death cleared the way for Andy to launch his national political career. And Julia's recent decision to file for divorce threatened to expose his relationship with Margo—potentially derailing his presidential aspirations. That possibility shed a gruesome new light on Julia's “accident.” Already, the whole episode had too much of a Princess Diana ring to it to suit her. And she didn't believe in coincidences.
Jesus. Was she really poised to consider accusing a sitting U.S. Senator of murder? It was insane . And if she ended up being right, what the hell would she do with the information, and how would she keep Julia safe?
She needed to talk with Dan—see if he could shed any light on this. Even though Dan was working for Andy, she trusted him—and she knew he'd never be involved in anything like this.
But what about Marcus?
Now, he was another matter. Marcus would've stepped up to manage the career of fucking Ted Bundy , if the party told him he had shot at winning.
She was startled when a hand slid up her arm and came to rest against her chest. Evan didn't realize that Julia was awake.
“Go to sleep. Stop thrashing.”
Evan was confused. “I'm thrashing?”
“It's a preemptive request.”
She yawned, and Evan felt warm breath against the side of her neck. She smiled. “Okay.”
“Are you all right?” Julia's sleepy voice was nearly a whisper.
Evan tightened her arms around her, and kissed the top of her head. “Yeah. Go back to sleep.”
She closed her own eyes, and forced herself to concentrate on the sound of the rain, until she dropped off, too.
Julia was scheduled to spend three more days in London , before leaving on Sunday to join her parents in Paris . She asked Evan to stay with her for the rest of her time there. Her meetings with the Waverly board were wrapping up on Friday—so that meant they could spend the evenings and all day Saturday together, sightseeing or relaxing in the flat.
It wasn't too hard to get Evan to agree. She had already determined that she was going to do some poking around in the area where Julia's accident took place.
They had breakfast together in a patisserie near the flat, and then Julia took a cab to the Waverly offices on New Oxford Street . Evan walked to the Bond Street tube station and rode the Jubilee Line to Waterloo . The South Bank was bustling, but she knew that the area would have been much less congested late on a Tuesday night. Julia's dinner meeting had taken place at Chez Gerard, and the small French restaurant was only about a hundred yards from the Royal Festival Hall arts venue near Waterloo Bridge . It was also within spitting distance of the British Film Institute. She walked first to the BFI complex, and picked up a circular to see what movies, if any, had been playing or letting out near the time of Julia's accident. There were three possibilities. The flyer indicated that two films let out at 11:00, one at 11:20. Julia's accident happened a few minutes after 11:30. Half a dozen pubs and twice as many restaurants peppered the area. Most London pubs now closed at 11:00, so there should have been a number of late-night stragglers making their way to their cars or the nearby tube station.
She walked the short distance from Chez Gerard, where the limo driver picked Julia up, down Belvedere Road to the site of the accident, near the entrance to Jubilee Gardens . Little evidence of the fatal crash remained, except for some chalk-like scrapes on a low concrete wall, and, off the road, some ruts in the grass and deep scarring in the bark of an enormous elm tree. Evan stood there, feeling half sick as she thought about how differently this all could have come out. Julia could have died here. Her driver did die here.
She stepped over the wall and walked over to the tree, kneeling and pressing her hand into the wide gash left by the car. This damage was all that remained to suggest that, in an instant, dozens of lives had changed forever.
“Did you know ‘em?”
Evan was startled by the voice. She hadn't heard anyone approach. She stood up and turned around to see a skinny man holding a rake. He must be a groundskeeper, she thought.
“Yes,” she said. “I do know one of them—the woman who survived.”
The man shook his head. “Awful business, that.” He nodded toward the tree. “Likely some sodded kids—out on a bender.”
“What do you mean?”
“The ones who ran ‘em off the road. They didn't stop, see. Ran right out of the Shell Centre lot over there and t-boned ‘em. Probably kids who had nicked a car and were out joy riding.” He shook his head again. “Rammed ‘em arse over tits, then high-tailed it out of here. Probably ditched the van on the other side of the river and run off on foot. They couldn't have got far.”
Evan was intrigued. “Why do you think that? Did you see the accident?”
He jabbed at the loose turf with his rake. “No. Don't work down here after dark, see. But I heard that the lorry they was driving was all but done for.”
“Really? Who told you that?”
He looked her up and down. “You sound like a Yank. Are you a copper?”
She smiled at him. “No. I'm just in town visiting a friend. A good friend. The one who survived the accident.” She held out a hand. “My name's Evan Reed.”
He stared at her for a minute before shifting his rake to his left hand, and reaching out to shake hers. “Reggie Pease.”
“You work here every day, Reggie?”
He nodded. “Here, and at the London Eye.” He gestured with his chin toward the huge Ferris wheel that was a landmark for tourists.
“So who told you about the lorry? Was it someone who saw what happened?”
He seemed to deliberate for a moment—like he was trying to decide how much to tell her.
He sighed. “Look. My pal Donny—he's a good sort. But his bird's a right dog's wife. Sometimes he steps out—just for a night off, see. No harm in that. Tells her he's out with his kids up in Hoxton. So he was at the pub that night, just for a little bait-and-switch. He was on his way back to the car park here when he saw the crash. He didn't talk to the Bizzies—couldn't let his bird know he was down here, see. So he tells me about it the next day at work.”
Evan took a deep breath. “What pub, Reggie? Where was Donny that night?” She took a step closer and laid a hand on his arm. “Look, I don't want to get Donny into any trouble. But maybe somebody else saw what happened, too.”
Reggie turned around and pointed back up Belvedere Road . “ Ping Pong—on the Terrace.”
Evan nodded. “Is Donny working today?”
Reggie shook his head. “He's off. Gone on holiday to Blackpool . Won't be back until Monday.”
Fuck it. Evan dug into her messenger bag and pulled out a notepad and pen. She scribbled down her cell phone number. “If you remember anything else, Reggie, or if you hear from Donny, would you call me at this number? I'll be in London for two more days.”
He took the slip of paper from her.
“Don't know much else,” he said. But he shoved the paper into the front pocket of his shirt.
He nodded, and turned away to walk back toward an electric cart full of lawn implements. Evan watched him with a sinking feeling. Before putting her notepad away, she quickly jotted down Reggie's name and what she knew about ‘Donny.' Then she walked back up to Belvedere Road , and made her way toward Waterloo Bridge and the Terrace area of Festival Hall.
Ping Pong was a bar and dim sum restaurant tucked into a corner of the Festival Terrace, near Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was on two levels, and had a large bar area that spilled out onto a concrete walkway. Evan guessed that it would be jamming on nights when there was a concert in the great hall. At first glance, it didn't seem like the sort of place that catered to a local clientele. She pulled open the large glass door and walked inside. It was early, but the bar area was dotted with a few lunch patrons. She sat down on a padded bench at a small table and looked around.
She knew the place was a franchise, but the decor had a pretty upscale feel. It was more like a teahouse than a pub. The ceiling was covered with Chinese characters. She picked up the spirits list printed on a tent card that sat on the tabletop and looked it over. Pretty limited. There were four or five Asian beers—only two on draught—and a dozen or so designer cocktails. Most of those were curious, tea- or herb-infused concoctions made with indifferent liquors.
She set the card back down. Whatever Donny was coming here for, it sure wasn't the swill.
A chesty redheaded server wearing a tight black t-shirt with “ping pong” stenciled across the front in bright blue letters approached her table.
She handed Evan a menu.
“Get you something to drink, luv?”
Evan took the menu and smiled at her. “Sure. My pal Donny told me to come up here and grab a bite. He said you'd take care of me.”
The server stood there tapping her pen against a leather-covered notepad.
“Donny?” She looked confused. Then Evan saw her glance out the window toward the embankment. “You mean the bloke who works at the London Eye?”
“That's right. Donny .”
“Oh—you'd want Lisa, then.”
Sweet. “Lisa. That's right.” Evan glanced over toward the bar. There were several other black-shirted servers hanging around—only one of them appeared to be doing anything. “Is she working today?”
The woman snorted. “We're all working today.” She clicked the end of her pen. “Start of a long weekend. Look, luv, if you know what you want to drink, I'll give her your order and have her bring it over. She's not working the bar today, but we aren't that busy yet.”
“Thanks. I'll have a Tiger.”
Evan shook her head. “Bottle.” She smiled. “A bit early in the day for me.”
The redhead looked her over. “I dunno. You seem like you could hold your own.” She sighed and snapped her order pad closed. Evan thought she probably was pissed about losing the 18% gratuity. “I'll get Lisa.”
She walked off.
Evan watched her approach the bar and stop to talk with an equally chesty blonde. She began to see the appeal of the place, and wondered if the food was any good. She chuckled, thinking about all the businessmen who claimed they really went to Hooters for the wings.
In another minute, Lisa approached her small table carrying an open bottle of beer and a pilsner glass. She set both down in front of Evan, and stood there quietly regarding her. She was a pretty girl—probably in her early 20s. She had multiple piercings in both ears. Part of a tattoo poked out above the neckline of her black t-shirt. It was obvious that she was uncomfortable. She kept shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
Evan tried to put her at ease. “You must be Lisa?” She smiled. “I'm Evan.” She poured some of the beet into her glass. “I was just talking to one of Donny's mates at the Gardens and he told me to pop in here for a meal—said that Donny comes here a lot.”
Lisa shrugged. “He comes in sometimes for a bite after his shift.”
Evan nodded. “Does he ever stay until last call?”
Lisa glanced nervously toward the bar. “Look. I don't want any trouble, okay? I haven't done anything wrong—just a bit of snogging in his car. That's all. No harm in that.”
Shit. She thinks his wife sent me. “Look, Lisa—I'm not here about that . I'm here because I know that Donny saw the crash that happened near the Gardens on Tuesday night. A friend of mine—a good friend—was in the car that got smashed-up.” She held Lisa's gaze. “Donny's on holiday, but I thought that maybe you were with him—that maybe you saw it, too?”
Lisa didn't say anything. She glanced again toward the bar.
“Look. I've got other tables. Do you want anything to eat?”
Evan sighed. She wasn't the least bit hungry, but she needed an excuse to prolong their interview. “Sure.” She handed Lisa the menu. “Pick something out for me.” She smiled at her again. “I trust you.”
Lisa took the menu from her and stood there a moment longer. Then she gave Evan a short nod and walked off.
Evan sipped at the pale lager. For an Asian beer, it had a familiar, western taste. She shook her head, marveling that products like this one had to sink to a level of complete blandness to succeed in the global market. She took another sip. Still, it didn't exactly suck . It just wasn't very unique or interesting.
She didn't know what she hoped to accomplish by trying to run down potential eyewitnesses to Julia's accident. What would she do with the information? She was certain that the London metro police were conducting their own investigation. Maybe they had contacted Donny already? Maybe they knew about Lisa, too? Maybe Reggie was right, and the missing van belonged to some joyriding kids who were just out carousing past curfew?
Maybe she should stop pissing in other people's ponds?
But something nagged at her gut. And it wasn't this indifferent beer.
Was it too much of a coincidence that Julia's near fatal accident happened on the heels of her telling Andy that she was filing for divorce? It was a ridiculous proposition—a bizarre coincidence. In his twisted way, Andy loved Julia. Dan told her that the night he called her about the accident. And Margo—she said the same thing.
Correction. Margo didn't say that Andy loved Julia. She said that Andy would never let her go .
Fuck. It still didn't make sense. She was on a fool's errand with all of this—seeing plots and conspiracies around every corner. This happened whenever she allowed her brain take a back seat to her emotions. She needed to quit thinking with her clit.
She shook her head and took another sip of the beer.
Hell, it wasn't her clit that was the problem—not this time. This time, it was her heart.
She was startled when she realized that someone had approached her table. She looked up to see Lisa standing there with a tray that held a steaming bamboo basket and some tiny bowls of sauces.
She began to set the assortment of items down in front of Evan.
“I thought you could try this sampler—see if there's anything you like. It's got two meat and three veggie dumplings.”
Evan lifted the top off the basket. Through a whirl of steam, she saw five, fat dim sum in various colored wrappers. They smelled delicious. Maybe she was a little hungry after all.
She smiled up at Lisa. “Thanks. This looks great—I'm sure it'll be plenty of food.”
Lisa nodded, but continued to stand there looking back at Evan. She had dropped her arm, and was slowly rapping the empty serving tray against the outside of her leg.
“Look,” she began in a quiet voice. “I was with him that night. We were walking to the car park—just to have a drink before heading out. Nothing wrong with that. I finished my shift and he waited outside for me. He's a nice bloke. Comes here a lot. I don't do married men—but there's no harm in having a drink and a bit of a snog now and then, is there?”
Evan shook her head. “I told you, Lisa, I'm not here about you and Donny.” She hesitated. “Believe me, I know what it's like to fancy someone who's married. I'm only interested in finding out if anyone besides Donny saw the crash that night. I'm not from the police—I'm just a good friend of the woman who survived. I want to make sure that someone wasn't trying to hurt her on purpose—you know what I mean?”
Lisa stared back at her for a moment before glancing over her shoulder at the bar area. It was still fairly quiet in the restaurant, and several of the servers were now gathered around one of the wall-mounted televisions, watching replays of a soccer match. She looked back at Evan and sighed, then nervously pulled out a bench and perched on the edge of it.
“Look. I did see it. We were right near the gardens when the car passed us. It was a silver Maybach. I remember 'cause Donny said he knew a bloke who worked on 'em, and they cost about a half million quid. Then a lorry came out of the Shell Centre and smashed it—pushed it right across Belvedere and rolled it over the wall. We didn't go any closer—Donny said we had to get out of there. I felt terrible about not trying to help—especially when I heard that the man in the car died.” She shook her head. “I'm glad your friend survived.”
Evan nodded. “I am, too.”
“That's it,” Lisa continued. “That's all I know.”
“Lisa, can you tell me anything about the lorry? What color it was? What make? Did it have any writing on it? Anything?”
“No writing. Blue. It was blue—a Caddy Van.” She thought about it. “Had a Sixt sticker on the back.”
“ Six? You mean the number?”
“No— Sixt. S-I-X-T. A car-hire place. They have lots all over London .”
Shit. Something about that name sounded familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yeah. Donny and I both saw it. It happened right in front of us. After it hit the Maybach, it took a few seconds to right itself before it went on. Donny said it was done for—the engine on it was grinding.”
“Did you see who was driving it? Was there more than one person in it?”
Lisa shook her head. “Didn't see anyone—no passenger, anyway. Not unless there was someone in the back.”
“Lisa, you've really been a lot of help. I can't thank you enough for deciding to talk with me.”
Lisa shrugged. “Tell your friend I'm sorry we didn't try to help—it was wrong. We should have.”
Evan reached out and touched her on the forearm. “It's okay, Lisa. The driver was killed instantly, so you couldn't have helped him—and my friend wasn't seriously hurt.”
Lisa nodded. “Thanks for telling me that.” She stood up. “Enjoy your lunch. I'll be back to check on you.” She walked off toward the bar.
Evan picked up her chopsticks and stabbed one of the dim sum. A gooey mixture ran out around the holes and puddled on the bottom of the bamboo basket.
Fucking great. This mess just gets better and better.
She wondered how-in-the-hell many ‘Sixt' lots there were in London , and how long it would take to figure out which one of them had rented the blue van? She glanced at her watch. It was just after 4:00 in D.C. Maybe she'd be lucky enough to catch Ben Rush at his office. He had moles in every major city on the planet. Why not see what contacts he had in London ?
In the meantime, she'd finish her lunch, and ask Lisa to point her in the direction of the nearest Internet café so she could do a little research of her own. She had about five hours to kill until Julia would be finished at Waverly—why not burn up some shoe leather and see what she could find out?
She had a hunch, and if it panned-out, she'd have a beat on where to start looking for leads.
Evan's research revealed that there were 11 Sixt locations in and around metro London . If she eliminated the two airports, that knocked it down to nine. Of the nine, only three kept vans and tipper trucks on their lots. Ben was able to tell her that two of the three locations had rented Caddy Vans that were not turned back in on Wednesday when they were due. One had been hired by a catering service when their own lorry had gone down for repairs. A private individual had rented the other van via the company's web site.
Ben wasn't able to get any more information than that. She didn't know if the van in question was blue. She didn't have a name or a description of the person who picked it up. She didn't even know for sure if the van that caused the crash had been rented in London . Hell. She was finding out that Sixt lots were like nail salons—and there seemed to be two or three of them in every fucking hamlet in England .
But she had to start someplace, so she Googled the address, and made her way across central London to the Sixt lot at Kings Cross. It was in a pretty typical industrial location, on a narrow street lined with warehouse-style buildings and a few innocuous storefronts. Most of the vehicles appeared to be stacked-up inside the massive garage adjacent to the rental office, or stored at a fenced car park that was located half a block away.
Evan entered the tiny reception area and tried to make a quick assessment of the two people working the counter. Which one would be likelier to dispense information she had no right to request?
It was a tossup.
A middle-aged woman wearing a tight, orange sweater looked tired and bored. She kept fussing with some stray strands of platinum hair that wouldn't stay behind her ear. She was chewing gum, and Evan could hear it cracking all the way across the small lobby. At a second window, a stocky East Asian man with a crew cut and a skinny orange tie was sorting through a stack of papers with a yellow highlighter. When he glanced up and noticed her staring at him, he stared right back—giving her a good once-over.
Smiling, she approached his window.
He pushed his stack of papers to the side and capped his highlighter.
“Do you have a reservation?” He looked Korean, but had no trace of an accent.
Evan was tempted to tell him that she had tons of reservations—about nearly everything. But that wasn't why she was here.
“No, actually. But I do have an unusual request—and I'm hoping you can help me out.”
He looked intrigued. “What's that?”
Evan glanced over her shoulder. There were no other patrons in the office. She inclined her head toward a small, open office area just to the right of the service counter.
“Could we maybe talk over there? I promise not to take up too much of your time.”
He followed her gaze, and then shrugged. “Sure.” He turned to address his gum-cracking colleague. “Judy, I'm going to pop over here for just a second. Will you mind the counter?”
Judy stared at Evan for a moment, before tucking her hair behind her ear and nodding. “No problem, Han.”
The phone rang and Judy snatched it up. “Sixt, Kings Cross.”
Han walked out from behind the counter and took a seat at the small metal desk. Evan followed him and sat down on a straight-backed chair that had a large, dried coffee or coke stain on its burgundy-upholstered seat.
She leaned forward and rested her arms on the edge of the desk, lowering her voice. “So, this is kind of embarrassing. But I think my brother's in a bit of a jam—he's fallen in with a bad lot, and he's got in over his head. He helped me move into a new flat on Tuesday—then hooked up with some of his mates and went clubbing.” She paused before continuing. “I think he might have been involved in a smash-up with one of your lorries. I don't know for sure—and I haven't heard from him. But I think they rented the van here, and I just want to find him. He's been in trouble before, and I want to get to him before the cops do—you know what I mean? He isn't 21 yet—so I wanted to find out if you maybe knew which one of his mates did the actual rental? Then I'd know where to look for him.”
Han hesitated for a moment and glanced over toward Judy, who was still talking on the phone.
“What kind of van was it?”
Score. “A blue Caddy Van.”
He sighed and pushed back his chair. Then he stood up and walked back over to retrieve the stack of papers he had been sorting through when she first came in. He leafed through them and withdrew a form before returning to his seat.
“We rented a blue VW Caddy Van on Tuesday afternoon to a Mr. Dakkar Nemo.”
Dakkar Nemo? Evan was stunned, and tried to conceal her reaction . Are you fucking kidding me with this? “Did he list an address?”
Han looked over the rental form. “152 Kemp House, City Road , EC1. Did the rental online. All we did was deliver the van. I wasn't working that day, so I didn't see who picked it up.”
“He used a credit card, then?”
Han looked down again. “Yeah. A prepaid Post Office Travel Card.”
Fuck it. Of course . “Did the van get turned in on time?”
Han laughed and rolled his eyes. “Not really. Looks like your instincts were spot on. It was smashed-up and abandoned—cops found it near St. Bride's, and hauled it over to the Bidder Street car pound this morning.”
“Any of that helpful?”
She nodded. “Yeah. It is. Thanks, Han. I mean it. You're a real mate to help me out.”
He nodded. “I have four brothers—I know what you're about. Good luck, okay?” He stood up. “I have to get back to the window now.”
Evan stood up, too, and held out her hand. “I appreciate your help.”
They shook hands, and Evan walked back outside to stand, fuming on the sidewalk.
Dakkar fucking Nemo.
Some asshole had a bizarre sense of humor. “Nemo” was the Indian antihero of the Jules Verne novels.
“Nemo” also was Latin for “no one.”
Nice. And certainly not a coincidence.
She pulled out a notepad and jotted down the address Han had given her. She was pretty sure this would be a dead-end, too, but she needed to check it out anyway.
Inside her coat pocket, her cell phone vibrated. She pulled it out. Text message from Julia. She punched the button, and the message displayed.
Looks like we'll be finishing up early. I should be able to shake free by 4. Eat in or dine out? Julia
She thought about it for a minute before hitting the reply button.
In. Don't want to miss the chance to torment you with alien spices. Meet you at the flat? I'll do the shopping. Evan
P.S. How are you?
She hit send and stood, waiting for Julia's reply. It didn't take long.
Sold. I'll see you there. J.
She was putting her phone away when it vibrated again.
P.S. I'm fine. Anxious to see you.
Smiling, she checked her watch. 1:45. She should have enough time to check out the Kemp House address before heading back to Mayfair to do her shopping. She hefted her messenger bag up onto her shoulder and made her way back up Brewery Road toward Kings Cross. She had no idea where in the hell “ City Road ” was, and she needed to find a WiFi location to find out before heading for the tube station. She knew that wouldn't be too hard-— London was shaping up to be like every other city on the planet, and there was a Starbucks café located about every 20 feet.
She snorted when she rounded the corner onto Kings Cross and immediately noticed one of the iconic green signs about half a block away.
Yeah. A shitty cup of coffee would be the perfect complement to this little research venture. So far, things were going great —and she was enjoying exactly the kind of success she would've been happy to live without.
The Kemp House address turned out to be a boarded up storefront. A tiny placard in the corner of a front window indicated that the building was owned and “managed” by London Virtual Office Services. Nice. Whoever rented the Caddy Van was a pro—and they knew how to cover their tracks.
Evan was now certain that Julia's accident had actually been a failed murder attempt. Correction. It hadn't failed at all—it just had claimed the wrong victim. Now she was faced with a real dilemma. What did she do with her suspicions? She had no proof of anything—and she could hardly tell Julia that she had a fantastic notion that someone—possibly her husband—might be trying to kill her. Julia would think she was a lunatic.
Maybe she was.
But she had to do something . If she were right, then whoever was behind this would certainly try again. And she needed to find a way to stop them before they got another chance.
She was mulling all of these things over as she walked down Brook Street with her bag of groceries. It was just a few minutes before 4:00, and Julia would be there soon. She opened the street door that led to the flats above Number 12, and trudged up the stairs, fishing the extra key Julia had given her that morning out of her pocket. When she rounded the corner at the top of the steps, she was surprised to see that the door to Julia's flat was ajar.
For a split second, panic shot through her, and she worried that someone had broken into the flat. She stopped, cold, in the hallway, deliberating about what to do. Then she heard Julia's voice call out to her from inside.
“I saw you from the front window. Come on in—I just got here, too.”
Jesus. She relaxed and shook her head. I need to get a fucking grip.
She walked inside, closing the door behind her. Julia was in the kitchen, opening a bottle of wine. She had already changed out of her business suit, and was wearing black jeans and an oversized, man's pullover sweater. Evan guessed that it probably belonged to her father. She looked fabulous. She smiled at Evan.
The wine cork made a loud pop when Julia pulled it from the bottle.
Things were definitely looking up.
Evan crossed over to the kitchen and set her bag of groceries down on the countertop. She let her messenger bag slide off her shoulder onto one of the bar stools.
“That's the nicest thing I've heard all day.”
Julia was still smiling at her. “What? This?” She held up the wine cork.
“Nope.” Evan walked over and stood just in front of her. “But that's a close second.”
Julia leaned forward and kissed her.
When they parted, Julia continued to hold her face between warm hands.
“What's the first?”
Evan closed her eyes. “‘Welcome home.' It's been a long time since anyone's said that to me.”
Julia tugged her closer. “We need to change that.”
Evan wrapped her arms around Julia's waist.
They stood there without speaking. The rest of her twisted realities were still there, lurking just beyond the tree line of conscious thought—but Evan ignored them, letting herself sink into this rare moment of calm.
Eventually, Julia drew back and kissed her on the forehead.
“What are you feeding me?”
Evan smiled at her. “Hungry?”
Julia rolled her eyes. “You have NO idea. I don't know who does Waverly's catering, but it's ghastly food. I barely ate anything—just enough to be civil.”
Evan chuckled and started unloading her groceries. “Good thing you only have one more day to endure it.”
Julia walked over to a cabinet and withdrew two wine glasses. “Not anymore.”
Evan was confused. “What do you mean?”
“I think my accident must have softened the old boys up. We agreed on all terms today. It's pretty much done-and-dusted, as they say over here.” She walked over to where Evan stood and set down the wine glasses. “I'm a free woman for the next two days. So.” She bumped Evan's arm. “Got any plans for the weekend?”
Evan was shocked—but relieved that she had already run down all the leads she had managed to unearth related to Julia's accident. There really wasn't much else she could accomplish here—what she needed now was to get back to D.C. and huddle with Ben. Then she had to talk with Dan—and Andy.
She looked over at Julia and feigned thoughtfulness. “Well…I don't know. Can I get back to you?”
Julia narrowed her eyes. “Really? Just what were you up to all day?”
Evan continued to unload her bag. “Oh, the usual. Cruising bars, picking up women….”
“Getting reacquainted with old friends?”
Evan gave her an enthusiastic nod. “And making a few new ones.”
Julia sighed. “So many women, so little time.” She shrugged. “Guess I'll just have to strike out on my own.” She turned, and started to walk off, but Evan grabbed her by the arm and yanked her back around.
Julia raised an eyebrow. “ Nuh uh? ”
“That's right. You go anyplace —you go with me. I'm sticking to you like white on rice.”
Julia glanced at the assortment of food items that littered the countertop.
“That sounds remarkably like whatever you're planning on for dinner.”
Evan looked down at the colorful assortment of fresh vegetables, spices, and Basmati rice.
“Um—well.” She looked up and met Julia's blue eyes. Fuck. Big mistake . “Stick with what you know?”
Julia moved in closer. “My sentiments exactly.”
They indulged in a few minutes of nonverbal communication. Eventually, Julia shifted, and moved her mouth against Evan's ear. “I was wrong,” she whispered. Her voice was husky.
“What about?” Evan was out of breath, too. The scent of lavender was driving her crazy. Being this close to Julia was driving her crazy. The whole fucking situation was driving her crazy. She needed to sit down.
“I'm not really very hungry.”
Jesus. Evan could barely stand. She moved her hands against the warm skin beneath Julia's sweater. “Got any ideas?” God. She really needed to sit down before she fell down.
Julia reached up and grasped one of her hands, then pulled her toward the hallway that led to the bedroom.
Evan followed her without speaking. It occurred to her that lying down would work, too.
Verulamium, on the banks of the Veru River , was a Roman town dating back to about A.D. 50. Home to the famed Watling Street trackway that once linked the ancient cities of London and Dover , the one-time Roman municipality was situated just south of the Cathedral city of St. Albans , in Hertfordshire. It was an easy train ride from London , and Julia suggested that it might be a nice place away from the city for them to spend their last two days together in England .
Evan had no problem with that idea. She was nervous about how vulnerable Julia was now in London , and she was trying, silently, to puzzle-through how she could protect her from any more “accidents.”
They checked into a room at the 500-year-old St. Michael's Manor on Fishpool Street , in the heart of St. Albans . The hotel was just a stone's throw away from the cathedral and abbey, and not far from the historic Roman ruins at Verulamium.
Evan had visited St. Alban's once during her year as a student at the University of London , and she remembered liking it. When she and Julia made the short walk to the church after checking in and unpacking, she was reminded why.
Unlike many of the grander, historic churches in England , St. Alban's remained an active center of worship, catering to the needs of a small, country town. Evan was enthralled by the shopworn serenity of a place that had been constructed during the time of the Normans , but still hummed with energy from the generations of people who sat, and studied, and prayed on the rows of simple wooden chairs that lined its nave.
Their tour of the cathedral was accompanied by the halting sounds of someone practicing on the massive pipe organ. If the performance were any indication, the unseen musician would need to practice a bit longer.
In the north transept, they paused to admire a colorful, construction paper display about the Sermon on the Mount, created by “Mrs. Fowler's Sunday School Class.” There also was a prayer board, weighted with petitions—and Evan fought off an impulse to grab a stub of pencil and a slip of paper out of a can at its base, and add a request of her own to the mix. When she looked up and realized that Julia had been watching her deliberate, she felt embarrassed. She shrugged to cover her discomfort.
Julia smiled at her. “I think maybe your mother knew what she was doing when she named you ‘Evangeline.'”
Evan rolled her eyes.
Julia touched her on the arm. “Don't do that.”
“Don't do what?”
“Don't pretend that your faith doesn't matter to you.”
Evan bit back a reflexive response. She really didn't want to tell Julia to go fuck herself. Not here—not in the middle of a tenth century cathedral.
“Okay, I won't,” she said, instead.
Julia smiled. “I meant what I said the other night.”
Evan was confused. “What?”
“I love you.”
Evan was stunned. She hadn't really expected that. She thought that Julia had just been exhausted and half asleep when she'd said it—that she probably didn't even remember it.
“Oh.” She backed up a step and dropped down onto a small, folding chair. “Okay.”
“Is it?” Julia continued to stand there in front of her, illuminated by a backdrop of Beatitudes.
Evan nodded. “Yeah.” She cursed herself for her lack of eloquence. Her brain felt like mush. “Why are you telling me this now?”
“I don't know,” Julia's blue eyes lifted up to take in the soaring arches over their heads. “It seemed like a good place to make this kind of admission.”
It was Evan's turn to smile. She reached out and took hold of Julia's hand, and tugged her over to sit on a chair beside her.
“I love you, too.”
“I know.” Julia looked smug. “You told me.”
Evan knew she was blushing. Again. “I didn't think you heard that.”
“Oh, I heard it all right. You can't take it back, now.”
“I don't want to take it back.”
Julia squeezed her hand between both of hers. They were characteristically warm. “Good.”
Evan sat gazing at her. Julia looked so beautiful it almost hurt. She was filled with about a dozen ideas about what she'd like to do, but didn't really know what else to say.
Julia took care of that for her. “I'm hungry. Want to find someplace to eat?”
Evan just nodded. They stood up and walked across the smooth, stone floor toward the entrance to the cloisters. The light outside was starting to fade, but if they hurried, they could make it back to their hotel before dark.
The remains of a Roman wall lined the walk from St. Albans to the ruins at Verulamium. This famed “ Watling Street ” road was the site of the last, fateful battle between the occupying Roman legions and an army of 100,000 British rebels, led by an insurgent queen named Boudicca.
In A.D. 60, native rebel forces led by Boudicca pushed the Roman army back across the Midlands, burning the city of Londonium in the process, and massacring over 25,000 of its inhabitants. Boudicca then moved her forces north to destroy the Roman city at Verulamium (later St. Albans )—a town mostly populated by Britons who sympathized with the invaders. Her goal was to seize control of the primary Roman food supply, but the Roman governor had strategically burned the stores in advance of her arrival. Exhausted and without food or supplies, Boudicca's army fell prey to the ravages of famine. They rallied and waged one last, heroic battle against the Roman troops someplace along the Watling Street Road in the West Midlands . The rebel forces suffered a catastrophic defeat, losing over 80,000 troops. It was later rumored that Queen Boudicca took her own life to avoid capture by the Roman authorities.
Sections of the Roman wall, a bathhouse, a theatre, the “London Gate” entrance to the city of St. Albans , and a museum full of coins, pottery, and mosaics were all that remained to remind visitors of the epic struggle the ancient Britons waged against the occupying Roman army.
Evan and Julia now walked among the stones that once made up the spectator area at the site of the Roman theatre. The temperature was hovering right around the 50-degree mark, but it felt colder. Rain was forecast again for overnight. Already, the air was growing heavier as moisture rolled in from the Channel coast off to the south. There weren't many tourists on this late October day, so they took their time, stopping to share the bag lunch and thermos of coffee an obliging kitchen staffer had shoved into Evan's hands as they prepared to leave their hotel earlier that morning.
They sat on a low section of wall that afforded a spectacular view of the excavation. The afternoon sun was hitting the square tower of the Abbey, visible over the tree line in the distance. There were several small birds, flitting around near the base of the single column that towered over what once was the stage area. The bright, yellow coloring of the birds captivated Evan. They looked splendid against the backdrop of so much stone and dying grass. She thought about Emily Dickinson, and her suggestion that hope was “the thing with feathers.”
“What are those?” she asked Julia, nudging her and pointing toward the birds. “They're beautiful.”
Julia squinted as she looked in the direction Evan indicated. “Yellowhammers, I think. It's not uncommon to see them in this part of the country in the late autumn.”
Evan laughed. “I should know better than to ask a publisher a rhetorical question.”
Julia looked amused. “I don't deserve any special credit for knowing that. My mother is quite the amateur ornithologist. I spent more Saturdays than I can count being dragged around from one depressing bog to another, while she crawled around on her tummy with her spyglasses and her notepad.”
“Uh huh. She even tried to coerce Andy into accompanying her on some of her Twitcher runs. That didn't last long.”
Evan was intrigued. “What in the hell is a ‘Twitcher'?”
It was Julia's turn to laugh.
“A Twitcher is a committed bird-watcher. True aficionados will travel great distances and spare next to no expense to add some new, rare species to their ongoing ‘lifelist.' My mother had the inclination and the financial wherewithal to indulge her voyeuristic passion for the sport, and she was an avid practitioner.”
“But Andy didn't enjoy it?”
“Not so much. Oh, he tried at first—like the dutiful son-in-law he was determined to be. But eventually, he grew bored with the pastime, and cared more about pursuing his own interests than indulging hers.” She laughed again—this time with what sounded to Evan like bitterness. “I remember the way he finally got her to quit inviting him along on her birding adventures.”
“How was that?”
“He showed up impossibly late for an outing one morning in the Hamptons . We were staying with them at their house there for the Thanksgiving holiday. My mother was furious—and embarrassed.”
“Why embarrassed?” Evan refilled their plastic cups with what was left of the coffee.
“Because mother was meeting up with some fellow Twitchers near Montauk that morning. There had been reports that a large flock of Razorbills had been making its way up from the Sound, and the area birders had staked out the site to watch their flight. But Andy laid waste to all their plans when he showed up impossibly late with his dog in tow.”
“Oh, yes. The dog took off down the beach, barking and chasing anything that moved—including the Razorbills. Needless to say, mother was incensed with him—and she never asked him to accompany her again.” She sighed. “She also banned Nemo from the house. He never went along with us for any more ‘holidays' with my parents.”
Evan choked on the sip of coffee she had just taken. She looked at Julia with alarm.
“ Nemo? ”
Julia nodded. “Andy's dog. He was a black, Flat-Coated Retriever. They were inseparable in those days. When he finally died two years ago, I thought Andy would go mad with grief.”
Jesus Christ. Nemo?
Julia was looking at her quizzically. “Are you all right? You look like you've just seen a ghost.”
Evan set her coffee down on a level bit of stone behind them. Her head was reeling, and she needed to think. Fast.
She needed to tell Julia something —it was ridiculous to think that she could continue to conceal all of this from her. But how much to tell her? How much was even worth telling her? And how would Julia react? She had no idea. But she was out of time, and out of options. Julia would leave for Paris on Sunday, and Evan wouldn't be on hand to protect her.
She shifted her body to face Julia more fully, and reached out to take hold of her free hand.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
Julia looked even more confused by the sudden change in Evan's demeanor.
“Of course I do.” She squeezed Evan's hand. “What's the matter?”
Evan took a deep breath. “It's about your accident.”
Julia tilted her head to the side. “What about it?”
Evan reached up to run her fingers over the fading bruise that still covered part of her face. “I don't think it was an accident, Julia. I think someone was trying to kill you.”
Julia recoiled from her touch, and the sudden movement spilled her coffee.
“Damn it!” She shook her hand quickly to disperse the hot liquid. She looked back at Evan with incredulity. “What are you talking about? Why on earth would anyone want to kill me?”
Evan took hold of her hand and rubbed the area where the coffee spilled. “I'm sorry. Really I am. I didn't mean to scare you. But I had to tell you. I had to. I spent all day Thursday poking around near the site of the accident—and I found out that someone using a bogus name and address had rented the van that hit you. It wasn't a random hit-and-run, Julia—it was intentional. ”
Julia sat there in stunned silence. “But why? That doesn't make any kind of sense, Evan. It must be a coincidence.”
Evan met her blue eyes. They looked open and confused.
“I know. I wanted to believe that, too. That's why I looked into it so carefully—I wanted to be sure certain. And I prayed that I'd be wrong. But I don't think I am, Julia.” She touched the side of her face again. Julia did not recoil this time. “If I thought there was any chance it truly was an accident—believe me—I wouldn't be saying anything to you now.”
Julia leaned into her hand. “Then why, Evan? I don't understand.”
Evan shook her head. “I can't explain that part. I think it has something to do with Andy and the campaign—that's all I'm really sure about right now.”
“Andy? The campaign? ” Julia shook her head and looked out across the excavation that spread out in front of them. Her expression slowly changed from one of confusion to resignation. Then defeat. Her demeanor suggested to Evan that she wasn't really seeing the tumbled and worn stones in front of her—she was seeing, instead, the ruined landscape of her own life. They sat in silence for several minutes. Then, Julia looked back at Evan. Her face had regained its characteristic, unreadable expression. When she spoke, her voice was flat and without emotion. “It's because of the divorce, isn't it? It's because I told him I wouldn't help him with his career any more. It's because they're afraid that this will expose his relationship with Maya.”
Evan nodded. “That's what I think, yes. But I'm not certain—and you can't be either. We don't know enough yet.”
Julia gave a bitter-sounding laugh. “ Yet? What does that mean? We wait for them to try again? Jesus.” She shook her head again. Her eyes began to fill with tears. “James. God. They killed James. They destroyed the lives of his wife and children—for what? So Andy could win another election? My god….”
Evan slid closer and pulled Julia into her arms. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”
Julia's hands dug into Evan's arms. Evan could feel their heat through the fabric of her jacket.
“What am I going to do?”
Evan kissed the top of her head. “I don't know. We'll figure something out.”
“I'm supposed to leave for Paris on Sunday.”
Evan closed her eyes. “I am, too.”
“I don't want you to leave me.”
“Then I won't.”
Evan felt Julia begin to shake. She held her closer.
“We'll figure something out. I promise.”
They sat huddled together without speaking for so long that the Yellowhammers dared to edge closer, and peck at the grass near their feet. It was only after they felt the first few drops of rain that they realized they needed to collect their things, and make the long trek back along the Roman road toward St. Albans .
To be continued.
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