Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford
What was wrong with her?
The question hovered over her like a black cloud.
She had made love with Jack and enjoyed every moment of it, and there had been an unexpected and wonderful renewal of passion between them, a passion sadly absent for months. To excuse this, she had blamed tiredness, work, the pressure and stress of designing sets at top speed. But in all truthfulness, something else had been at play. Exactly what that was she wasn’t sure. She had pulled away from having sex with Jack, had avoided it. There had been a strange reluctance in her to be intimate with him, and she had mentally recoiled. But why? He was appealing, attractive, good-looking in a quiet way, and had a very endearing personality. He was even funny, made her laugh hilariously.
So many images invaded her, bounced around in her head, and conflicting thoughts jostled for prominence in her mind. She closed her eyes for a moment, endeavoring to sort them out. Suddenly she sat up straighter and thought: My God, I agreed to marry Jack! I’m engaged to him!
This was no joke as far as he was concerned. He was very serious. He had gone on talking over dinner about getting married, constantly touching his glass of red wine to hers, and they had laughed together, and flirted, and been in tune on all levels.
While they hadn’t exactly settled on a wedding date, she had sort of acquiesced when he had talked about winter at the end of the year. “In New York. A proper wedding,” he had insisted. “With your family and mine, and all the trimmings. That’s what I want, Lexi.” And she had nodded in agreement.
Once dinner was over, he had helped her stack the dishwasher, and then they had gone to bed. But he had
left at five, kissing her cheek and whispering that he wanted to get an early start on a large canvas for his upcoming show.
As for her, she dreamed about another man, and in the most intimate way possible at that.
there something wrong with her? This wasn’t normal, was it?
Despite the chamomile tea and its so-called soothing properties, she was suddenly wide awake. Glancing at the small brass carriage clock on the mantel, she saw that it was already ten past six in the morning.
Ten past twelve in Paris.
On an impulse, before she could change her mind and stop herself, she lifted the phone on the side table and dialed Tom’s office number, his direct line. Within a split second the number in Paris was ringing.
And then he answered. “
She clutched the phone tighter. She couldn’t speak. She could barely breathe. She heard an impatient sound from him, and then he spoke again.
” Then again, this time in English, he said, “Hello? This is Tom Conners. Who is this?”
Very carefully she replaced the receiver. Her hands were damp and shaking, and her heart was thudding unreasonably in her chest. What a fool she was to do this to herself. She took several deep breaths, leaned against the cushions in the chair, staring off into space.
He was there. In his office. He was still in Paris. He was alive and well.
And if she went to Paris, to Anya Sedgwick’s birthday party, she would do exactly what she had just done. She wouldn’t be able to resist. She would call him, and he would say let’s have a drink, because he was like that, and she would say yes, that’s great, and she would go and have a drink with him. And after that she would be genuinely lost. Floundering about once more. Yes, a lost soul.
Because to her Tom Conners was devastatingly irresistible, a man so potent, so compelling, he lived with her in her thoughts, and in her heart and mind, if not all the time, for a good part of it.
Even though they had stopped seeing each other three years earlier, and he had been the one to break it off, she knew that if she spoke to him he would want to see her.
You’re such an idiot, she chastised herself. Anger flooded her. It was an anger at herself and her lingering emotional involvement with Tom Conners. And she knew it had been foolish to make that call, even though she hadn’t spoken to him. Just hearing that arresting, mellifluous voice of his had truly unnerved her.
Alexa now forced herself to focus on Jack Wilton. He loved her, wanted to make her his wife, and she had actually accepted his proposal. All that aside, he was a truly decent human being, a good man, honorable, kind, loving, and generous to a fault sometimes. His success had not spoiled him, and he was very down-to-earth in that humorous English way of his, not taking either himself or life too seriously. “Only my work must be taken seriously,” he was forever telling her, and she understood exactly what he meant by that.
She knew he adored her, admired her talent as a scenic designer, applauded her dedication and discipline. He encouraged her, comforted her when she needed comforting, and was always there for her. And the truth was he had stayed in the relationship and had been exceedingly patient with her even when she had been cool toward him physically these last few months.
What’s more, her parents liked him. A good sign, since they’d always been very critical when it came to her boyfriends. Not picky about Tom Conners, because he’d charmed them without trying. But then again, they had never really known him, nor had they actually understood
the extent of her involvement with him, because their relationship had evolved after she had left Anya’s school in Paris.
Jack would make a wonderful husband, she decided. He loved her, and she loved him. In her own way.
Alexandra pushed herself up out of the chair very purposefully, and, turning off the lamp, she went back to bed. Jack Wilton was going to be her husband, and that was that.
Sadly, she would have to forgo Anya’s eighty-fifth birthday party. For her own self-protection.
SEATED AT THE MAHOGANY TABLE IN THE ELEGANT DINING
room of her parents’ apartment on East Seventy-ninth Street, Alexandra was savoring the tomato omelette her mother had just made, thinking how delicious it was. Hers inevitably turned into a runny mess despite having had her mother, the best chef in the world, to teach her over the years.
“This is great, Mom,” she said after a moment, “and thanks for making time for me today. I know you like to have your Saturdays to yourself.”
“Don’t be silly, I’m glad you’re here,” Diane Gordon answered, glancing up, smiling warmly. “I was just about to call you this morning, to see what you were doing, when the phone rang and there you were, wanting to have lunch.”
Alexa returned her mother’s smile and asked, “When’s Dad getting back from the Coast?”
“Tuesday, he said. But it could be Friday.
know what the network is like. You grew up with networks and their schedules, lived by them when you were a child.”
“And how!” Alexa exclaimed. “I suppose Dad’s going to see Tim this weekend.”
“Yes, they’re having dinner tonight. Dad’s taking him to Morton’s.”
“Tim’ll love that, it’s his favorite place in L.A. I guess he’s going to stay out there after all. When I spoke to him last week he sounded very high on Los Angeles, and his new job at NeverLand Productions. He told me he was born to be a moviemaker.”
Diane laughed. “Well, I suppose that’s true. Remember what he was like when he was a kid, always wanting to go with your father to the television studios, to be on the set. And let’s not forget that Grandfather Gordon was a very highly thought of stage director, and for many years. Show business is in Tim’s blood, more than likely.” Diane took a sip of water, then asked her daughter, “Do you want a glass of wine, darling?” a blond brow lifting questioningly.
“No, thanks, Mom, not during the day. It makes me sleepy. Anyway, it’s fattening … all that sugar. I prefer to take my calories in bread.” As she spoke, she reached for a piece of the baguette that her mother had cut up earlier and placed in a silver bread basket. She spread it generously with butter and took a bite.
“You don’t have to worry about your weight, you know, and you look marvelous, really well,” Diane remarked, eyeing her daughter. She couldn’t help thinking how young she looked for her age. It didn’t seem possible that Alexandra was
. In fact, in the summer she would be thirty-one, and it seemed like only yesterday that she was a toddler running around her feet. My God, when I was her age I had two children, Diane thought, and a husband to look after, and a growing business to run.
, she mused, and in May
. How time flies, just disappears. Where have all the years gone? David will be fifty-nine in June. What is even more incredible is our marriage. It’s lasted so long, so many years, and it’s still going strong. A record of sorts, isn’t it?
you pondering? You’re looking very strange. Are you okay?” Alexa probed.
“I’m fine. I was just thinking about your father. And our marriage. It’s amazing that we’ve been married for thirty-three years. And what’s even more staggering is that the years seem to have passed in a flash. Just like that.” She snapped her fingers and shook her head in sudden bemusement.
“You two have been lucky,” Alexa murmured, “so lucky to have found each other.”
“That’s absolutely true.”
“You and Dad, you’re like two peas in a pod. Did you start out being so alike? Or did you
to resemble each other? I’ve often wondered that, Mom.” Her head on one side, she gazed at her mother, thinking how beautiful she was, probably one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen, with her peaches-and-cream skin, her pale golden hair, and those extraordinary liquid blue eyes.
“You’re staring, Alexa. You’re going to see all my wrinkles!”
“Oh, Mom, you don’t have one single wrinkle. I kid you not, as Dad says.”
Diane laughed and murmured, “As for you, my girl, you don’t look a day over twenty-five. It’s hard for me to believe you’ll be thirty-one in August.”
“It’s my new short haircut. It takes years off me.”
“I guess it does. But then, short hair makes most women look younger, perkier. And it’s certainly the chic cut this year.”
“You once told me short hair was the only chic style, and that no woman could be elegant with hair trailing around her shoulders. And you should know, since you’re considered one of the chicest women in New York, if not
“Oh, I’m not really, but thanks for the compliment.
Although I should point out that the whole world suspects you’re a bit prejudiced.”
“Everyone, the press included, cites
as a fashion icon, a legend in your own time. And your boutiques have been number one for years now.”
worked hard to make them what they are, not only me, Alexa. Anyway, what about you, darling? Have you finally finished those winter sets?”
Alexa’s face lit up. “I completed the last one of the snow forest earlier this week, on Tuesday actually. Yesterday I saw blowups of them all at the photographic studio, and they’re great, Mom, even if I do say so myself.”
“I’ve told you many times, don’t hide your light under a bushel, darling. It doesn’t do to brag, of course, but there’s nothing wrong in knowing that you’re good at what you do. You’re very talented, and personally I was bowled over by the panels I saw.” Diane’s pale blue eyes, always so expressive, rested on her daughter thoughtfully. After a moment she said, “And so … what’s next for you?”
“I have one small set to do for this play, and after that my contract’s fulfilled.” Alexa laughed a little hollowly and added, “Then I’ll be out of work, I guess.”
“I doubt that,” Diane shot back, the expression on her face reflecting her pride in her only daughter. “Not you.”
“To be honest, I’m not worried. Something’ll turn up. It always does.”
Diane nodded, and then her eyes narrowed slightly. “You said on the phone that you wanted to talk to me. What—”
“Can we do that later, over coffee?” Alexa cut in swiftly.
“Yes, of course, but is there something wrong? You sounded worried earlier.”
“Honestly, there’s nothing wrong. I just need … a sounding board, a really good one, and you’re the very best I know.”
“Is this about Jack?”
“No, and now you’re sounding like all those other mothers, which most of the time you don’t, thank God. And
, it’s not about Jack.”
“Don’t be so impatient with me, Alexa, and by the way, Jack Wilton is awfully nice.”
he is, and he feels the same way about you. And Dad.”
“I’m glad to hear it. But how does he feel about
That’s much more important.”
“Your father and I think he would make a good—a very nice son-in-law.”
Alexa did not respond.
HALF AN HOUR LATER
Alexandra sat opposite her mother in the living room, watching her as she poured coffee into fine bone-china cups. She was studying Diane through objective eyes, endeavoring to see her as clearly as possible. It suddenly struck her what a unique person she was, a woman who was savvy, smart, successful, and highly intelligent as well. And she really did understand human frailties and foibles, because her perception and insight were well honed, and she was compassionate. But would she comprehend
dilemma, a dilemma centered on two men?
After all, there had been only one man in her mother’s life, as far as she knew, and that man was her father, who Diane Carlson had met at twenty-four and married within the year; they had been utterly devoted to each other ever since. I know she’ll understand, Alexandra reassured herself. She’s not prudish or narrow-minded, and she never passes judgment on anybody. But how to tell her my story? Where do I begin?
It was as though Diane had read her daughter’s mind
when she announced, “I’m ready to listen, Alexa, whenever you want to start. And whatever it’s about, you’ll have all my attention and the best advice I can give.”
“I know that, Mom,” Alexa answered, adding “Thanks” as she accepted the cup her mother was passing to her. She put it down on the low antique table between them and settled back against the Venetian velvet cushions on the cream sofa. After a second or two, she explained, “Late yesterday afternoon I got an invitation to go to a party in Paris. For Anya. She’s going to be eighty-five.”