Read While We Were Watching Downton Abbey Online

Authors: Wendy Wax

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While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

BOOK: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

WHILE WE WERE WATCHING
DOWNTON ABBEY

Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Wax

Readers Guide copyright © by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Excerpt from
Ten Beach Road
copyright © 2011 by Wendy Wax

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

An application to register this book for cataloging has been submitted to the Library of Congress.

First edition: April 2013

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-59939-6

Cover art by John Giustina/Getty Images

Cover design by Rita Frangie

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

To Julian Fellowes with admiration and thanks for creating
Downton Abbey
and the delicious characters who inhabit it.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As always thanks are owed to Karen White and Susan Crandall, critique partners extraordinaire. I’m grateful for your honest feedback, encouragement, and the loan of brainpower when my own seems in short supply.

Thanks also to Susan Shapiro whose home tour helped me imagine the Alexander; Barry Eva, author of
Across the Pond
; and Facebook friend Diana Bowie, for insights and tidbits that contributed to the creation of expat Edward Parker.

And a thank-you to Alicia Culp, Mimi Davenport, LeaAnn Larsen, Erin Galloway, Wendy McCurdy, Stephanie Rostan, and Rebecca, Logan, and Callan Ritchie for lending me their names. Some of you supported charities or won the opportunity to see your name in this book. Others simply couldn’t escape. I thank all of you for the loan. I did my best this time not to turn any of you into villains.

And finally, my gratitude to Leslie Gelbman for coming up with the kernel of the idea that became Samantha, Claire, Brooke, and Edward.

CHAPTER ONE

A
S A CHILD SAMANTHA JACKSON DAVIS LOVED
fairy tales as much as the next girl. She just hadn’t expected to end up in one.

Every morning when her eyes fluttered open and every night before she closed them to go to sleep, Samantha marveled at her good fortune. In a Disney version of the airline passenger held up in security just long enough to miss the plane that goes down, or the driver who runs back for a forgotten cell phone and barely avoids a deadly ten-car pileup, Samantha averted disaster in the once-upon-a-time way: she married the prince.

Over the past twenty-five years Samantha had sometimes wished she’d spent a little more time and energy considering alternatives. But when your world comes crashing down around you at the age of twenty-one, deep thinking and soul-searching are rarely your first response.

There was plenty of precedent for prince-marrying in the fairy-tale world. Sleeping Beauty had not ignored the prince’s kiss in favor of a few more years of shut-eye. Cinderella never considered refusing to try on the glass slipper. And Snow White didn’t bat an eyelash at moving in with those seven little men.

It wasn’t as if Samantha had gone out searching for a man to rescue her and her siblings when their world fell apart. She hadn’t feigned a poisoned apple–induced sleep or gotten herself locked in a tower with only her hair as a means of escape. She hadn’t attempted to hide how desperate her situation was. But the fact remained that when the handsome prince (in the form of an old family friend who had even older family money) rode up on his white horse (which had been cleverly disguised as a Mercedes convertible), she had not turned down the ride.

The fact that she hadn’t loved the prince at the time he carried her over the threshold of their starter castle was something she tried not to think about. She’d been trying not to think about it pretty much every day for the last twenty-five years.

* * *

SAMANTHA SMILED SLEEPILY THAT EARLY SEPTEMBER
morning when her husband’s lips brushed her forehead before he left for the office, but she didn’t get up. Instead she lay in bed watching beams of sunlight dance across the wooden floors of the master bedroom, breathing in the scent of freshly brewed coffee that wafted from the kitchen, and listening to the muted sound of traffic twelve floors below on Peachtree Street as she pushed aside all traces of regret and guilt and renewed her vow to make Jonathan Davis happy, his life smooth, and his confidence in his choice of her unshaken.

This, of course, required a great deal of organization and focus, many hours of volunteer work, and now that she was on the downhill slide toward fifty, ever greater amounts of “maintenance.” Today’s efforts would begin with an hour of targeted torture courtesy of her trainer Michael and would be followed by laser, nail, and hair appointments. Since it was Wednesday, her morning maintenance and afternoon committee meetings would be punctuated by a much-dreaded-but-never-complained-about weekly lunch with her mother-in-law. Which would last exactly one hour but would feel more like three.

Samantha padded into the kitchen of their current “castle,” which took up the entire top floor of the Alexander, a beautifully renovated Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival–styled apartment building in the center of Midtown Atlanta.

When it opened in 1913, the Alexander, with its hot and cold running water, steam heat, elevators, and electric lights, had been billed as one of the South’s most luxurious apartments. Like much of mid – and downtown Atlanta it had fallen on hard times but had been “saved” in the eighties when a bottom-fishing developer bought it, converted it to condos, and began the first of an ongoing round of renovations.

A little over ten years ago Samantha and her prince spent a year turning the high-ceilinged, light-filled, and architecturally detailed twelfth-floor units into a four-bedroom, five-bath, amenity-filled home with three-hundred-sixty-degree views and north – and south-facing terraces.

For Samantha its most prized feature was its location in the midst of trendy shops, galleries, and restaurants as well as its comfortable, but not offensive, distance from Bellewood, Jonathan’s ancestral home in Buckhead, one of Atlanta’s toniest and oldest suburbs, where both of them had grown up and where his often-outspoken mother still reigned.

The doorbell rang. As Samantha went to answer it she pushed thoughts of Cynthia Davis aside and gave herself a silent but spirited pep talk. She’d married into Atlanta royalty. Her prince was attractive and generous. A difficult mother-in-law and a life built around pleasing others was a small price to pay for the fairy-tale life she led. As Sheryl Crow so aptly put it, the secret wasn’t having what you wanted but wanting what you got.

* * *

SHORTLY AFTER THE MORNING’S TRAINING SESSION
ended Samantha rode a mahogany-paneled elevator down to the Alexander’s marbled lobby. The gurgle of the atrium fountain muffled the click of her heels on the polished surface as she took in the surprisingly contemporary high-backed banquette that encircled the deliciously carved fountain. Conversation groups of club chairs and sofas, separated by large potted palms, softened the elegant space. A burled walnut security desk, manned twenty-four-seven, sat just inside the entrance. The concierge desk sat in the opposite corner and commanded a view of the lobby as well as the short hall that accessed the parking garage and the elevators.

“Good morning, madam.” Edward Parker’s British accent was clipped, his suit perfectly tailored, his starched shirt crisp. His manner was deferential but friendly. A relatively recent addition to the Alexander, the concierge was tall and dark with rugged good looks that seemed at odds with his dignified air. “Shall I have your car brought around?”

“Thank you.” She was of course capable of simply going into the Alexander’s parking garage to retrieve her own car, but the last time she’d insisted on doing this Edward had looked genuinely disappointed, and the minutes saved would come in handy if she ran behind or hit traffic between appointments or on the way to lunch with her mother-in-law. Punctuality was a virtue that Cynthia Davis prized; tardiness a vice to be stamped out at all cost.

“Very good,” he said, his brown eyes warm, his white-toothed smile decidedly un-British. When he lost some of the stiff upper lip that seemed welded to his accent and his occupation, there was a rakish George Clooney–ness about him. Although Parker was in his early fifties, Samantha’s younger sister Meredith had pronounced him both “hot” and “dishy.”

Samantha arrived at the Piedmont Driving Club—where the Davises had belonged since its inception as a gentleman’s club in the late 1880s—ten minutes before noon, buffed, coifed, and polished. Though she was early her mother-in-law was already seated at a favored table with her back to the window, the better to keep an eye on the room’s comings and goings. Samantha smiled and leaned down to kiss her mother-in-law’s rouged cheek. Cynthia Davis might be seventy-five, but she was still formidable. Like her son and the husband she’d already outlived for a decade, she could drive a golf ball straight down a fairway and had a tennis backhand that was almost as sharp as her tongue. Born into one of Atlanta’s oldest and most revered families and married into another, she remained a snob at heart; one who liked to remind anyone who would listen that “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and the vaguer but more ominous “breeding will out.” Samantha had heard these summations applied to everything from a disappointing fund-raiser to the scandal that had ensued when Samantha’s father, Davis & Davis’s managing partner, had dipped into client trust accounts, almost ruining the firm that had been in the Davis family since shortly after the Civil War. He’d been under investigation when his car had run off the road just a few miles from home, killing both him and Samantha’s mother instantly.

Cynthia Davis had been horrified when her only son chose to marry the daughter of onetime friends who had disgraced themselves publicly before dying spectacularly. Samantha’s failure to produce a grandchild had made her even less desirable in her mother-in-law’s eyes.

Samantha had barely settled into her seat when Cynthia leveled her steeliest look at her and asked, “What do you intend to do about Hunter and Meredith?”

“Do?” Samantha ordered a glass of Chardonnay. Hearing her brother and sister’s names on her mother-in-law’s lips made her regret she could have only one glass. As she considered possible replies, she made a mental note not to schedule anything after their weekly lunch in the future so that she could drink as much as the meal required.

“I don’t believe either of them are employed at the moment, are they?” Cynthia asked, as if there might be some doubt. For Cynthia Davis idleness was an even greater personality defect than lack of income.

“Not exactly, no.”

“Then perhaps we need to put our heads together to come up with something for them to do.” This was not a question. “After all, Hunter’s last venture did show some . . . promise.” Cynthia was referring to her brother’s recent attempt to launch a chain of soul food/sushi restaurants in the Midwest, which had ended badly. Hunter could make a better first impression than almost anyone she knew and could sell almost anything while in the first flush of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, follow-through was not his forte.

Samantha smiled and nodded as if Cynthia’s comment had been meant as a compliment, and perhaps it had been. Her mother-in-law did not approve of Hunter Jackson, or the money Jonathan spent on Hunter’s upkeep, but she was not immune to Hunter’s charm.

The basket of corn bread and rolls that neither of them would touch arrived. A group of women stopped by the table to pay their respects on their way out.

“Don’t you think it’s time we find Meredith an opportunity here in Atlanta where she can make use of her degree? She did spend quite a lot of time in school acquiring it.” Cynthia had been furious when she’d realized the size of the tuition Jonathan had paid for Samantha’s younger sister to receive a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the College of Charleston. But while Jonathan loved his mother and preferred her happy—or at least satisfied—he didn’t ask her input on his decisions or bow to her wishes unless they happened to coincide with his.

“I don’t imagine the Atlanta Preservation Board has heard about her little contretemps in Charleston yet. Maybe I could put a word in.” This was so Cynthia—first the slap down, then the oddly magnanimous gesture. Samantha allowed herself another measured sip of wine. At least Cynthia hadn’t brought up her sister’s taste in men.

“And that last boy she brought to the Labor Day party at the club?” Cynthia shook her head sadly. “Really, dear. Meredith is quite presentable when she tries. I’d think she might aim a little higher.”

Samantha swallowed slowly, bracing for the “bless her heart” that Cynthia all too often tacked on to the end of Meredith’s name; the final condemnation of her sister and the job Samantha had done raising her. A job for which she’d been unprepared and which had led her to marry the first prince who had galloped to her aid.

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