Authors: Danielle Steel
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Sagas, #Romance, #Contemporary
IN THE DRIVING rain of a November day, the cab from London to Heathrow took forever. It was so dark it looked like late afternoon, and Charlie Waterston could barely see out the windows as familiar landmarks slid past him. It was only ten o'clock in the morning. And as he leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, he felt as bleak as the weather all around him.
It was hard to believe it had all come to an end. Ten years in London gone, finished, closed, and suddenly behind him. Even now, it was difficult to believe any of it had happened. It had all been so perfect when it began. It had been the start of a life, a career, a decade of excitement and happiness for him in London. And now suddenly, at forty-two, he felt as though all the good times were over. He had begun the long, slow trip down the other side of the mountain. For the past year, he had felt as though his life was slowly and steadily unraveling. The reality of it still amazed him.
And as the cab stopped at the airport finally, the driver turned and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.Goin' back to the States, are you, sir? Charlie hesitated for a fraction of a second and then nodded. Yes, he was. Going back to the States. After ten years in London. Nine of them with Carole. Gone now. All of it. In a matter of moments.
Yes, I am, he said, not sounding like himself, but the driver couldn't know that. All he could see was a well-dressed man in a well-cut English suit and a Burberry raincoat. He had an expensive umbrella with him, a well-worn briefcase that he carried contracts and documents in. But even with all his well-chosen accessories, he didn't look English. He looked like what he was, a handsome American who'd lived in Europe for years. He was completely at home here. And it terrified him more than a little that he was leaving. He couldn't even imagine living in New York again. But he'd been forced into it, and the timing had been perfect. There was no point staying here now anyway, without Carole.
He felt a rock crush his heart, as he thought of her, as he stepped out of the cab and tipped the porter to take his luggage. He was only carrying two small bags. The rest was being held for him in storage.
He checked in at the desk, and then went to sit in the first-class lounge, but he was relieved to see that there was no one he knew there. It was a long wait to board the plane, but he had brought plenty of work with him, and he kept busy until they called the flight. He waited as he always did, and he was the last passenger to board the aircraft. And as the flight attendants showed him to his seat and took his coat for him, his dark brown hair and warm brown eyes did not go unnoticed. He was tall, had long, athletic limbs, and he was undeniably attractive. Besides which, he wore no wedding band, and the woman across the aisle and the flight attendant taking his coat couldn't help but notice. But he was oblivious to all of them, as he slipped into the seat next to the window, and sat staring out at the rain on the runway. It was impossible not to think of what had happened, impossible not to run his mind over it again and again, as though looking for the seam from where the leak began, the place where the life-blood of their relationship had begun to seep away without their even knowing.
It still seemed incredible to him. How could he have been so blind? How could he have not known? How could he have believed they were so perfectly happy, while she was slipping away from him? Had it changed suddenly, or had it never been the very thing he'd been so sure of? He had been absolutely convinced that they were completely happy, and he still thought they had been ' until the end ' until the last year ' until she told him ' until Simon. It made Charlie feel so stupid. He'd been such a fool, flying from Tokyo to Milan, designing office buildings, while Carole represented clients for her law firm all over Europe. They were busy, that was all. They had lives of their own. They were planets in separate orbits. But there had been no doubt in anyone's mind how perfect it all was, how it was exactly what they wanted, whenever they were together. Even Carole seemed surprised by what she'd done, but the worst thing about it was that she wasn't willing to undo it. She had tried, but in the end she knew she couldn't.
One of the flight attendants offered him a drink before they took off, and he declined. She handed him the menu then, a set of headphones, and the list of movies. None of it appealed to him. All he wanted to do was think, to try and sort it all out again, as though it would come out differently if he thought about it long enough, and this time, came up with the right answers. It made him want to shout sometimes, to pound his fist into a wall, to shake someone. Why was she doing this to him? Why had that asshole come along and destroyed everything he and Carole had wanted? And yet, even Charlie knew that it wasn't Simon's fault, which left no one to blame except himself and Carole. It made him wonder at times why it was so important to assign the blame. It had to be someone's fault, and lately he had taken to blaming himself. He must have done something to make her turn to someone else. She said that it had happened more than a year before, while they were working on a case together in Paris.
Simon St. James was the senior partner of her law firm. She liked working with him, she laughed about him sometimes, talked about how smart he was, and how outrageous he was with women. He had already had three wives, and he had several children. He was debonair, dashing, good-looking, and extremely charming. He was also sixty-one, and Carole was thirty-nine. She was only three years younger than Charlie, twenty-two years younger than Simon. There was no point reminding her that he was old enough to be her father. She knew all that, she was a smart girl, she knew what a cra2y thing it was, and what it had done to Charlie. That was the worst part. She hadn't wanted to hurt anyone. It had just happened.
Carole had been twenty-nine, beautiful, extremely bright, and had a great job with a law firm on Wall Street. They'd been dating for a year before Charlie got transferred, to run the London office of his architectural firm, Whittaker and Jones, but it was never serious between them. He was transferred from New York, where he'd worked for them for two years, and he was delighted.
She came to London on a lark, to see him, and she had no intention of staying. But she fell in love with London, and then with him. It was different here, everything was more romantic. She started flying over whenever she could, to see him on weekends. It was the perfect life for them. They skied in Davos and Gstaad and St. Moritz. She had gone to school in Switzerland when her father worked in France, and she had friends all over Europe. She was completely at home here. She spoke German and French with ease, she fit right into the London social scene, and Charlie adored her. After six months of commuting, she found a job in the London office of an American law firm. They bought an old carriage house in Chelsea and she moved in with him, and they were like two crazy, wild, happy people. They spent almost every night dancing at Annabel's at first, and discovering all the wonderful little out-of-the-way places, restaurants and antiques shops and nightclubs in London. It was heaven.
The carriage house they had bought was in total disrepair when they acquired it, and it took them nearly a year to restore it. And when it was finished, it was spectacular, it was a labor of love for both of diem, and they filled it with beautiful things, and all the treasures they collected. They drove through the countryside finding old doors, and remarkable antiques, and when they got tired of traveling around England, they began spending weekends in Paris. They led a charmed life, and between their various business trips they managed to get married, and spend a honeymoon in Morocco, in a palace Charlie had rented for them. Everything they had done had been stylish and fun and exciting. They were the kind of people everyone wanted to know, or be with. They gave great parties, did fun things, and knew all the most interesting people. Everywhere they went, people loved being around them. And Charlie loved being with her more than anything. He was crazy about her. She was long, and lean, and blond, with perfect limbs and a body that looked as though it had been sculpted from white marble. She had a laugh that sounded like bells, a voice that still made him tingle whenever he heard it. She had a deep, sexy voice, and just hearing her say his name made his insides shiver ten years later.
It was the golden life of two careers, two powerful, intelligent, interesting, successful people. The only thing they didn't have, or want, or need, were children. They'd talked about it repeatedly, but it never seemed the right time to them. Carole had too many important, and extremely demanding, clients. To Carole, they were her children. And Charlie didn't really mind. He loved the idea of having a little girl who looked like her, but in truth, he was too crazy about her to want to share her. They had never actually decided not to have kids, they just hadn't done it. And in the last five years, they had talked about it less and less often. The only thing that did bother him was now that his parents were gone, other than Carole, Charlie had no other family. No cousins, no grandparents, no aunts and uncles, no siblings. All he had was Carole, and the life they shared. She was everything to him, and now he realized, too much so. There was nothing about his life with her that he would have changed during those years. As far as he was concerned, the life they'd built together was perfection. He was never bored with her, never tired of her, they rarely argued. Neither of them seemed to mind the fact that the other traveled extensively. If anything, it made it more exciting to come back to London. He loved coming back from a trip, and finding her, lying on the couch in their living room, reading a book, or better yet, lying in front of the fire, dozing. More often than not, she was still at work when he returned from Brussels or Milan or Tokyo, or wherever he'd been. But when she was home, she was entirely his. She was good at that. She never made him feel that he came after her work. If he did occasionally, when she had an important case or a difficult client, she was careful not to let him know it. She made him feel as though the world revolved around him ' and it did ' for nine exquisite years, and then suddenly ' it didn't, and he felt as though his life were over.
As Charlie flew inexorably toward New York, he couldn't help counting backward again. The affair had begun exactly fifteen months before, in August. She had told him that, when she told him everything, finally. She had always been honest with him. Honest, truthful, loyal. Other than the fact that she seemed to have fallen out of love with him, he had had nothing to reproach her. She, and Simon had been working in Paris together for six weeks. It was an important case, it had been fraught with tension, and Charlie had been at a delicate stage of a major negotiation with huge new clients in Hong Kong. He had been there almost weekly for nearly three months, and the aggravations associated with it had almost driven him insane. He had hardly had a minute to spend with her, which was rare for him, and certainly no excuse for what she'd done, she agreed. But it wasn't his absence that had done them in, she explained ' it was just time ' and fate ' and Simon. He was remarkable, and she was in love with him. He had swept her off her feet, and she knew it was wrong, but she insisted she couldn't help it. She had tried to resist everything she felt for him at first, but eventually she found she just couldn't. She had admired him for too long, liked him far too much, and somehow they found they just had too much in common. It was the way it had been with Charlie a long time since, when everything was still exciting and fun, way back in the beginning. But when did it change? Charlie had asked plaintively while they talked about it on a rainy afternoon as they walked through Soho. It was still fun, he insisted to her helplessly. It was still exactly the way it had once been. He tried to convince her, but Carole only looked at him and shook her head imperceptibly as she listened. It wasn't fun anymore, she said through tears, it was different. They had separate lives, separate needs, they spent too much time with other people. And in some ways, she thought they had never grown up, but Charlie didn't understand that. But unlike being away from Charlie constantly, as they had been for years because of their travels, she loved being with Simon day after day, and she said he took care of her in ways that Charlie didn't. How, he had begged her to explain, and she tried to, but she found she couldn't. It was more than just what Simon did, it was the complicated world pf dreams, and needs and feelings. It was all the small, inexplicable, tiny little subtleties that make you love someone, even when you wish you didn't. She and Charlie had both cried when she said it.
She told herself that the affair with Simon was just a fling when she finally gave in to him. It would be nothing more than a temporary indiscretion, she promised herself, and she meant that. It was the first and only time she'd had an affair, and she didn't want to do anything that would permanently disrupt their marriage. She tried to break it off with Simon when they went home, he said he understood perfectly. He had had affairs before, and he had admitted to her that during his own marriages he had frequently been unfaithful. He regretted it, he explained, but he knew well the landscape of betrayal and indiscretion. He was single at the time, but he was entirely sympathetic to Carole's feelings of guilt and obligation to her husband. But what neither of them had counted on was how much they would miss each other once they were back home, living far from each other in London. Neither of diem could bear being apart now. They began to leave the office together in the afternoons, to go to his flat, just to talk sometimes, so she could air her feelings, and she found that what she loved most about him was how well he understood everything, how solicitous he was of her, how much he loved her. He was wiling to do anything just to be near her, even if it meant just being friends and no longer lovers. She tried to stay away from him, but she found she just couldn't. Charlie was out of town most of the time, she was alone, and Simon was there, pining for her, as she was for him. She had never realized before how alone she felt, how much Charlie was gone, and how much it meant to her to be with Simon. The physical aspect of the affair with Simon began again two months after they'd tried to end it. And her life was one long deception after that, of meeting him after work almost every night, and pretending to work together on weekends. He actually stayed in town much of the time, to be with her, and when Charlie was gone, they went down to his place in Berkshire for the weekend. She knew what she was doing was wrong, but it was like being possessed. She found she couldn't stop it.