Authors: Danielle Steel
To my beloved children,
Beatrix, Trevor, Todd, Nick, Sam,
Victoria, Vanessa, Maxx, and Zara,
all of whom have amazing grace,
all of whom I admire so immensely,
and of whom I am so very, very proud,
and whom I love with all my heart.
with all my love,
Mom / d.s.
In each loss there is a gain.
As in every gain there is a loss.
And with each ending comes a new beginning.
If you become whole,
everything will come to you.
TAO TE CHING
Sarah Sloane walked into the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco and thought it looked fantastic. The tables were set with cream-colored damask cloths, the silver candlesticks, flatware, and crystal gleamed. They had been rented from an outside source, which had donated their use for the evening, and offered fancier options than those provided by the hotel. The plates were rimmed with gold. Silver-wrapped party favors were on the tables at each place. A calligrapher had written up the menus on heavy ecru stock, and they'd been clipped into little silver stands. The placecards with tiny gold angels on them had already been set down according to Sarah's carefully thought-out seating chart. The gold sponsor tables were at the front of the room, three rows of them in fact, with the silver and bronze tables behind them. There was a beautiful program on every seat, along with an auction catalogue and numbered paddle.
Sarah had organized the event with the same meticulous diligence and precision that she did everything, and in the way she had run similar charity events in New York. She had given every detail a personal touch, and it looked more like a wedding than a benefit, as she glanced at the cream-colored roses encircled with gold and silver ribbons on every table. They had been provided by the city's best florist at one-third of the normal cost. Saks was providing a fashion show, Tiffany was sending models to wear their jewelry and wander through the crowd.
There was an auction of high-ticket items, which included jewelry, exotic trips, sports packages, celebrity meet-and-greet opportunities, and a black Range Rover parked in front of the hotel with a huge gold bow tied on top. Someone was going to be very happy driving the car home at the end of the evening. And the neonatal unit at the hospital benefiting from the evening was going to be even happier. This was the second Smallest Angels Ball that Sarah had organized and run for them. The first one had netted them more than two million dollars, between seat prices, the auction, and donations. She hoped to make three million tonight.
The high caliber of the entertainment they were providing would help them get to their goal. There was a dance band, which would play on and off during the night. One of the other members of the committee was the daughter of a major Hollywood music mogul. Her father had gotten Melanie Free to perform, which allowed them to charge high prices for both individual seats and particularly the sponsor tables. Melanie had won a Grammy three months earlier, and her single performances like this one usually ran a million five. She was donating her performance. All the Smallest Angels had to pick up were her production costs, which were quite high. The cost of travel, lodgings, food, and the set-up of her roadies and band was estimated to cost them three hundred thousand dollars, which was a bargain, considering who she was and the cataclysmic effect of her performance.
Everyone was so impressed when they got the invitation and saw who was performing. Melanie Free was the hottest musical artist in the country at the moment and dazzling to look at. She was nineteen years old and had had a meteoric rise in the last two years, due to her consistent hits. Her recent Grammy was the icing on the cake, and Sarah was grateful she was still willing to do their benefit for free. Her greatest fear had been that Melanie would cancel at the last minute. With a donated performance, a lot of stars and singers dropped out hours before they were expected to show up. But Melanie's agent had sworn she would be there. It was promising to be an exciting evening, and the press were covering the event in force. The committee had even managed to corral a few stars to fly up from L.A. and attend, and all the local socialites had bought tickets. For the past two years, it had been the most important and productive benefit in San Francisco—and, everyone said, the most fun to attend.
Sarah had started the benefit as a result of her own experience with the neonatal unit, which had saved her daughter, Molly, three years ago, when she was born three months premature. She was Sarah's first baby. During the pregnancy everything seemed fine. Sarah looked and felt fabulous, and at thirty-two, she assumed she wouldn't have any problems, until she went into labor one rainy night, and they couldn't stop it. Molly was born the next day and spent two months in an incubator in the neonatal ICU, with Sarah and her husband, Seth, standing by. Sarah had been at the hospital day and night, and they had saved Molly with no ill effects or resulting damage. She was now a happy, bouncy three-year-old, ready to start preschool in the fall.
Sarah's second baby, Oliver—Ollie—had been born the previous summer, without any problems. He was a delicious, chubby, gurgling nine-month-old now. Her children were the joy of Sarah's existence and her husband's. She was a full-time mom, and her only other serious activity was putting on this benefit every year. It took a monumental amount of work and organization, which she was good at.
Sarah and Seth had met at Stanford Business School six years before, which had brought them both out from New York. They married as soon as they graduated, and stayed on in San Francisco. Seth had gotten a job in Silicon Valley, and just after Molly's birth he had started his own hedge fund. Sarah had decided not to join the workforce. She got pregnant with Molly on their wedding night, and wanted to stay home with their babies. She had spent five years working on Wall Street in New York as an analyst, before going to business school at Stanford. She wanted to take a few years off now, to enjoy motherhood full-time. Seth had done so well with his hedge fund that there was no reason for her to go back to work.
At thirty-seven, Seth had already made a considerable fortune, and was one of the brightest young stars in the heavens of the financial community, in both San Francisco and New York. They had bought a beautiful large brick house overlooking the bay in Pacific Heights, and filled it with important contemporary art: Calder, Ellsworth Kelly, de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and a handful of promising unknowns. Sarah and Seth were thoroughly enjoying their life in San Francisco. It had been easy for them to move since Seth had lost his parents years before, and Sarah's had moved to Bermuda, so their family ties to New York were no longer strong. It was obvious to everyone on both coasts that Sarah and Seth were there to stay, and they were a wonderful addition to the business and social scenes of the city. A rival hedge fund had even offered Sarah a job, but she had no desire to do anything except spend her time with Oliver and Molly—and Seth when he was free. He had just bought a plane, a G5, and flew to L.A., Chicago, Boston, and New York often. They had a golden life that only got better year by year. Although she and Seth had both grown up in comfortable circumstances, neither of them had had the extravagant life they had now. It worried Sarah a little from time to time that maybe they were spending too much money, with a fabulous house in Tahoe in addition to their city house, and their own plane. But Seth insisted they were fine. He said that the kind of money he was making was meant to be enjoyed. And there was no question that he did.
Seth drove a Ferrari, and Sarah a Mercedes station wagon that was perfect for her with two kids, although she had an eye on the Range Rover that was going to be auctioned off that night. She had told Seth she thought it was really cute. And most of all, it was for a good cause, one they both really cared about. After all, the neonatal unit had saved Molly's life. In a less high-tech, medically sophisticated hospital, their adorable three-year-old wouldn't be alive today. It meant the world to Sarah to give back by organizing the benefit, which had been her idea. The committee turned an enormous profit over to them after the evening's expenses were paid. Seth had kicked things off for them with a two-hundred-thousand-dollar donation in both their names. Sarah was very proud of him. She always had been and still was. He was the star of her heavens, and even after four years of marriage and two children, they were very much in love. They were even thinking about trying for a third baby. She had been overwhelmed with the benefit for the past three months. They were chartering a yacht in Greece in August, and Sarah thought that would be the perfect time to get pregnant again.
Sarah walked slowly around each table in the ballroom, doublechecking the names on the placecards against her list. Part of the success of the Smallest Angels Ball was that it was exquisitely run. It was a first-class event. As she made her way toward the silver tables, after checking the gold, she found two mistakes, and switched the placecards with a serious expression. She had just finished checking the last of the tables, and was going to check on the party favor bags that six of the committee members were filling to hand out at the end of the evening, when the benefit's assistant chair made her way toward Sarah across the ballroom, with an excited look. She was a beautiful, tall blonde married to the CEO of a major corporation. She was his trophy wife, had been a model in New York, and was twenty-nine years old. She had no children and wasn't planning to have any. She had wanted to be on the committee with Sarah because the benefit was such a big deal and so much fun. She'd had a ball helping Sarah put it together, and the two women got along well. Sarah's hair was as dark as Angela's was blond. Sarah had long, straight, dark brown hair, creamy skin, and huge green eyes. She was a beautiful young woman, even with her hair in a ponytail, no makeup, a sweatshirt, jeans, and flip-flops. It was just after one o'clock, and in six hours both women would be transformed. For now, they were hard at work.
“She's here!” Angela whispered with a broad grin.
“Who?” Sarah asked, resting her clipboard on her hip.
“You know who! Melanie, of course! They just arrived. I took her to her room.” Sarah was relieved to note they had come in on time, on the private plane the committee had chartered to bring her and her entourage from L.A. Her band and roadies had come by commercial jet, and had already been in their hotel rooms for two hours. Melanie, her best friend, her manager, assistant, hairdresser, boyfriend, and mother, had come up in the chartered plane.
“Is she okay?” Sarah asked, looking concerned. They had gotten an advance list of everything she required, including Calistoga bottled water, low-fat yogurt, a dozen kinds of natural foods, and a case of Cristal champagne. The list was twenty-six pages long, referring to all her personal needs, her mother's food preferences, even the beer her boyfriend drank. And then there were another forty pages referring to the band, and all the electrical and sound equipment they'd need on stage. The eight-foot grand piano she required for her performance had been brought in at midnight the night before. She and the band were scheduled to rehearse that afternoon at two. Everyone else had to be cleared out of the ballroom by then, which was why Sarah was finishing her rounds at one.
“She's fine. The boyfriend is a little odd, and her mom scared me to death, but her best friend is cute. And Melanie is really beautiful and very sweet.”
Sarah had had that impression the one time she spoke to her on the phone. The rest of the time, Sarah had dealt with her manager, but she had made a point of calling and thanking Melanie personally for doing their benefit. And now the big day was here. Melanie hadn't canceled in favor of a performance somewhere else, the plane hadn't crashed, they'd all arrived on time. The weather was warmer than usual. It was a sunny afternoon in mid-May. In fact it was hot and muggy, which was rare in San Francisco, and more like a summer day in New York. Sarah knew that it would break soon, but it always created a festive atmosphere in the city when the nights were warm. The only thing she didn't like about it was that someone had told her that days like this one were considered “earthquake weather” in San Francisco. They'd been teasing her about it, but she didn't like hearing it anyway. Earthquakes were the one thing that had worried her about the city since they'd moved there, but everyone assured her that they rarely happened, and when they did, they were small. In six years of living in the Bay Area, she hadn't felt one yet. So she dismissed what they had said about “earthquake” weather. She had other things to worry about right now, like their star singer and her entourage.