Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford
“You taught us so much, brought out and nurtured our talents, helped us to realize our aspirations and our dreams,” Jessica told her. “You helped to make us what we are, Anya. And for that we’ll be forever grateful.”
Anya nodded. “You all came to Paris for some other reasons as well, I realize that. You had unfinished business … each one of you had a quest. And I’m so very happy you found what you were seeking.… ” She focused on Alexa. “You and Tom got back together … permanently?”
Alexa nodded, her face glowing as she showed Anya her left hand. A diamond ring sparkled on it. “We got engaged tonight. Tom slipped the ring on my finger in the car as we were being driven over here.”
“I’m so happy for you, Alexa darling. He’s always been the only man for you.”
Looking closely at Maria, Anya continued. “And you and Nicky seem to be ideally suited.… ”
“Yes, we are, Anya, and Nicky wants us to marry. When
he’s free, after he is divorced. And I’m not going back to Milan. I’m going to live in Paris with Nicky, and I’m going to be an artist. No more textile designing for me,” Maria announced.
Anya clapped her hands together softly. “Thank God for that, Maria. It would be such a waste of your talent if you kept your job at home. And congratulations to you too. I shall give the wedding for you when you marry. It will be my great pleasure. And, Kay, what about you? Everything seems to be working with you and your lovely Ian.”
“It is, Anya, and as I told you, there’s nothing wrong with me physically. There’s no reason why I can’t have a baby.” Kay laughed lightly. “But Ian doesn’t care. He says it’s me he wants.”
“And why wouldn’t he feel that way? He’s a lucky man to have you,” Anya replied. Her eyes rested finally on Jessica, and she noticed yet again that there was still a wistfulness to her, a sadness in her eyes.
“I’m relieved you found Lucien, and that you had a chance to see him, Jessica,” Anya began. “I know what a shock it was for you, but now I believe you can close this chapter, my dear. Finally, after all these years.”
“Close the book, actually, Anya,” Jessica answered. “It’s not often a person gets a second chance in life … but I’m so very lucky because I have Mark. He thinks we have a future together, and I have a feeling he’s right.”
“I know he is. And he’s a lovely man. Why, they’re all lovely men.… ”
A SHORT WHILE AFTER
this they all went downstairs to dinner.
Nicky and Maria escorted Anya, and as they led her into the dining room she was unexpectedly blinded by tears.
The room had been transformed into the most beautiful English garden she had ever seen. Masses of flowering plants were banked high around the room. Orange trees in tubs decorated corners. Stone fountains sprayed arcs of shimmering water up into the air. There were stone statues and stone sundials in strategic places, and bowers and arches of fresh roses entwined with ivy leaves. And each table was skirted in pale pink with low bowls of pink roses in the center, and votive candles flickered brightly … hundreds of tiny lights around the room that added to the magic.
“Oh, Nicky,” Anya said, and was unable to say another word. She shook her head and clutched his arm as he led her forward to the main table, where she was to sit with her immediate family. “Thank you, thank you, darling,” she whispered hoarsely, still choked as he pulled out her chair for her.
“It was my pleasure, my very great pleasure, Anya,” he said, and moved away, holding Maria’s hand as they went to join the others at their intimate table for eight.
I’m so very lucky, a most fortunate woman, Anya thought as she sipped her water, waiting for the table to fill up with her children and her beloved sister, Katti. What a life I’ve had. Eighty-five wonderful years. Love and happiness. Pain and suffering. And quite a lot of grief. But I’ve always come through my troubles. I’ve endured. Perhaps that’s what life is all about. Enduring. Being a survivor.
And my four girls are survivors. Anya turned in her chair, focused her eyes on the dance floor. The table next to hers had emptied, and its occupants were on the dance floor.…
Maria was in Nicky’s arms. He was moving her slowly around the room, whispering in her ear.
Kay’s head was against Ian’s shoulder, her expression
dreamy, and he had a look of absolute contentment in his eyes.
Jessica was holding on to Mark very tightly, and her face was no longer quite so sad. She was looking up at him and laughing, her eyes sparkling.
Alexa and Tom were not dancing at all, merely swaying to the music. At one moment he looked down at her and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Let’s get married as soon as possible,” he said softly. “I can’t wait for you to be my wife. I love you so much.”
“And I love you, Tom. For always,” Alexa said, and she held him closer to her. All she wanted was to share that humdrum life of his, as he called it. She smiled a small, secret smile. Humdrum indeed, she thought.
Anya, still watching them, wished she knew what they were saying to each other. And then she laughed out loud. Of course they were telling each other beautiful things, making promises, making commitments … just as she had done so many years ago. First with Michel Lacoste and then with Hugo Sedgwick.
Love, she thought. There’s nothing like it in this world. It’s the only thing that really matters in the end.
BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, and was a reporter for the
Yorkshire Evening Post
at sixteen. By the age of twenty, she had become both an editor and a columnist on London’s Fleet Street. In 1979, she wrote her first novel,
A Woman of Substance
, and that enduring bestseller was followed by sixteen others, most recently
The Triumph of Katie Byrne
. Ten have been made into television miniseries and movies of the week. Her novels have sold more than 61 million copies in eighty-nine countries and thirty-nine languages worldwide. She lives in New York City with her husband, producer Robert Bradford.