Read an Excerpt
Part OneA REMARKABLE
There is that law of life, so cruel
and so just—that one must grow,
or else pay more for remaining the same.
Norman Mailer, The Deer Park (1955)
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OneMuch later that same day, Annette Remmington stood in front of the long mirrored door in her dressing room, staring at her reflection but not seeing herself.
She was not focused on her image at this moment but on the small knot of anxiety which had settled in her stomach since she had returned home. She could visualize it quite easily. . . . It was the size of a pea but as heavy as a lead pellet.
Unexpectedly, she felt slightly dizzy and reached out a hand, steadied herself against the dressing table. After taking several deep breaths, she managed to get her suddenly swimming senses under control. Now she looked at her full image objectively, nodded approvingly at what she saw, and chided herself for being so ridiculous.
The mention of Hilda Crump had unsettled her earlier in the day, and the call from Malcolm had been nagging at her all afternoon. But her troubles with Hilda Crump had happened long ago, and Hilda had moved on, and out of her life. The past was the past and she mustn’t let it come back to haunt her in this silly way.
I must put her out of my mind. And the past. It’s gone. I must focus on now. The present. And the future. I’ve always pigeonholed things and I have to do that again. Immediately. Hilda must go back into her pigeonhole and remain there. She is no longer part of my life and therefore unimportant. She can’t hurt me. No one can hurt me. And I can’t afford to waste time like this, reflecting on the past, a past I cannot change.
I’ve started a new phase of my life with the success of the auction. I pulled it off and I can pull it off again. Christopher Delaware doesn’t have another Rembrandt, but he does have some fine paintings and I can auction them off the same way. Marius told me the sky’s the limit, and he’s right, but will he let me go to the limit? He always wants to be in control of everything. And me. I know how to handle him now after all these years. So I’ll manage. I always have. I think I’ll do my next auction in New York. It would be profitable. I’ve got good clients there—
“Are you ready, darling?”
She swung around. “Yes, I am,” she answered at once, forcing a smile for her husband, who was walking across the dressing room. Surreptitiously, she glanced at the clock on the dressing table. It was just five-thirty. And of course he was ready on time, punctual as always.
“You’re upset,” he said, drawing to a standstill next to her, peering into her face.
“No, I’m not, not at all,” she answered, and immediately wished she hadn’t sounded so defensive.
“Yes, you are, Annette,” he insisted in his usual firm manner. “Look at yourself in the mirror. You’re only wearing one earring.”
Startled, she immediately swung to the mirror. Surprise flickered. God, he was right! As usual. Where was the other one? She spotted it on the dressing table, snatched it up, quickly put it on. “I went to get my wedding ring from the bedside table, where I’d left it. I just became distracted, that’s all, really.” She felt flustered all of a sudden. He stood staring at her intently and she found his penetrating stare unnerving. Damn, she thought, he’s going to pick on me all night, but she took hold of herself firmly, not wanting to be rattled.
Annette now offered him a warm smile. “You look very handsome tonight, Marius, and the new dinner jacket is fabulous.” Stepping closer to him, she stood on tiptoe, kissed his cheek. “Happy birthday again, darling, and I do hope you’re going to enjoy your party.”
Relaxing his rigid stance, smiling in return, he said in a lighter tone, “I know I will, and let us not forget it’s your party, too, my darling girl. We’re celebrating your amazing success.” His black eyes sparkled as they rested on her, and approvingly so.
Taking hold of her arm possessively, he brought her closer to him, wrapped his arms around her. “I love you very much, you know, darling,” he said before releasing her. Holding her at arm’s length, he added, as his eyes swept over her, “You look very beautiful, you really do.”
“Well, thank you, but I think I’ve looked better,” she murmured, meaning this.
Shaking his head, half smiling, he led her out into the corridor, wondering why she constantly found it hard to accept a compliment gracefully. He said, “We’d better go. I don’t want any of our guests to arrive before we do. We can’t be late.”
Stay calm, she told herself. And keep cool.“Wow!” Malcolm Stevens exclaimed, literally gaping at Annette, astonishment mingled with admiration flashing across his face. “Oh, wow!” he said again, more emphatically, in genuine awe. “You look fantastic, absolutely bloody marvelous.” It was quite apparent he meant every word.
Her blue eyes sparkling, filling with laughter, Annette looked both pleased and amused by Malcolm’s reaction to her appearance.
She stood with Marius in the long reception room which adjoined the Dorchester ballroom, and she leaned forward, kissed Malcolm on the cheek, and thanked him.
As she stepped back, his glance swept over her once more, taking in the stunning ice-blue strapless gown, worn with a matching satin stole lined with scarlet silk. That was the surprising touch, the brilliant red against the cool blue, plus the huge cabochon ruby earrings hanging from her ears, echoing the vibrant color of the silk.
Annette Remmington was elegance personified. Her blond hair, usually worn loose, was swept back from her face, wound up into a chignon at the back of her head. It suddenly struck him that her eyes looked bluer than ever tonight; perhaps it was the evening gown that heightened their color.
Gripping Marius’s outstretched hand, Malcolm went on, “And you don’t look half bad yourself! In fact, the two of you are so glamorous you’ll put all your guests to shame.”
Marius chuckled. “I’m afraid you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until the show business crowd arrive. They’re much more glamorous than we are. But thanks for the compliments, Malcolm. And welcome. We’re very glad you’re here.”
Now turning to his wife, Marius shook his head and chided lightly, “I told you how beautiful you looked, but you didn’t believe me. Now that you’ve just witnessed Malcolm’s stunned reaction, you must know I’m right.”
“I did believe you,” she protested, slipping her arm through his, leaning against him. “You’re always right.”
Clearing his throat, Malcolm interjected, “It’s great to be here, and thanks for having me, but now I think I’d better move on, so you can greet your other guests. See you later.”
Marius nodded, immediately turned around, and stretched out his hand to welcome some of the newly arriving guests streaming through the door.
Malcolm slipped away.
Moving down the room, he took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and walked around, mingling with the crowd. He spoke to a few people he knew, then positioned himself near a pillar, leaning against it and watching the show unfold.
And quite a show it was. He spotted two beautiful American movie stars with their husbands, done up to the nines and dripping diamonds from every pore; a famous, recently knighted writer of literary fiction; a controversial politician with his busty wife; a duchess renowned for her young lovers; and quite a few old friends and acquaintances, as well as a number of other art dealers.
The world and his wife, he thought. Everyone’s here. And why not? When Marius gives a party on this scale, he usually pulls out all the stops. That is why everybody wants to be invited.
Actually it was Annette’s party this evening. She had long planned it for Marius’s sixtieth, and she had put a lot of time and effort into it. Just the way Marius had taught her. That was his way. He tended to be a teacher by nature.
Certainly Marius had been his teacher, and mentor, friend, and colleague as well. Their association had lasted a long time, and yet Marius didn’t seem a day older than when they had met fifteen years ago. He stared down the length of the room, focused on him, thinking that he looked especially well this evening. Tall, slender, as immaculately dressed as ever, wearing an impeccably tailored dinner jacket no doubt from his favorite Savile Row tailor. His mane of silver hair gleamed above his lightly tanned face; Marius was forever popping off somewhere to catch the sun, and the tan gave him a youthful look. But it was his hair that Malcolm envied, and it was his hair, of course, that had inspired his nickname: the Silver Fox, they called him. Although he and a few others knew that it also referred to Marius’s nature. He was considered to be decidedly foxy by some friends, so-called.
Malcolm had gone to work for Marius fifteen years ago, when he was twenty-seven, had been thrilled to be one of the team at the Remmington Gallery in St. James’s. When Marius decided to sell the gallery ten years ago, Malcolm had borrowed the money from his father in order to buy it. He had kept up its fine reputation and garnered many new clients, and Marius said he was proud of him, was forever praising him for upholding the great tradition of the Remmington.
Wanting a less hectic life, Marius had taken offices in Mayfair and become an art consultant and private dealer with only a handful of steady and very rich clients. They had remained close, and Malcolm was an admirer of the older man.
Not everyone felt the same way he did. There were those who bad-mouthed Marius Remmington. They said he was arrogant, mercurial, temperamental, driven, and something of a manipulator. But there were lots of people in this world who loved to carp. Malcolm knew that only too well.
There had been gossip about the Remmingtons for as long as he could remember. In his opinion it was because they attracted attention, caused resentment and jealousy. Talented, socially acceptable, upwardly mobile, and highly successful, they were quite a remarkable couple. Reasons enough for tongues to wag. And wag they did.
Then there was the difference in their ages. Marius was twenty years older than Annette . . . sixty to her thirty-nine. But she would be forty in June, and the twenty-year gap between them didn’t seem so startling now. But once it had, when she was eighteen and he was thirty-eight, and something of a man about town, considered a bit of a roué. Cradle-snatcher, he had been called, and worse.
There was mystery, so-called, surrounding Annette’s background. No one really knew where she had sprung from. Except, of course, for the Marius Mafia, who bragged they knew. His mafia, so-called, was a cadre of young men who constantly surrounded him, whom he called his protégés, which is exactly what they were. Young men who’d been singled out for their talent, who had worked for Marius at some time, or still did, who were loyal, devoted, and forever at his beck and call. They enjoyed being around him because something was always happening. It seemed to Malcolm that there was a constant show going on. . . . Famous people, people in the know and in the news, gravitated to Marius. That was an essential part of his success as an art dealer, that charisma of his, the gregariousness, the bucketsful of charm and the clever way he had of pulling everyone into his orbit.
Malcolm was one of Marius’s favorites and he had received special treatment from the very beginning. And he knew all about Annette, or at least he thought he did. The Marius Mafia had told him about Annette.
Seemingly she had come to London from some Northern city, he wasn’t sure which, to study art. But there was not enough talent to lift her up into the stratosphere of genius which equaled eventual fame. Good-looking. But the looks were obscured by her hesitant manner, according to some of the Marius Mafia; it was a sort of diffidence, they said. Blond, blue-eyed, slender as a reed, and exceedingly bright. But ordinary. That was the way they had described her to him. He himself had not known her then.
Not so ordinary now, though, Malcolm thought, his eyes settling on her. It was an elegant creature who stood there. Not the most beautiful woman in the world, but good-looking, well put together whatever the occasion, and the current golden girl in the art world. Her auction of the Rembrandt had assured her a place in the front row, had given her art consultancy business a big boost. . . .
“What are you doing here all alone, Malcolm?” a familiar voice exclaimed.
Swinging around, Malcolm grinned. “Watching the show and having a bit of the old bubbly. How about you, David? And where’s Meg?”
His old friend David Oldfield shook his head. “Still in New York. On business. I’m solo tonight.” Reaching into his pocket, David pulled out a small envelope, looked inside, and said, “I’m at table ten. What about you?”
“The same. I have a feeling it’s Marius’s table. Come on, let’s try and get to the bar. I’d like a vodka.”
“Good idea,” David responded, and together they struggled through the throng. Once they had each secured a Grey Goose on the rocks, they went off into a quiet corner. Clinking glasses, they both said cheers in unison, and David asked, “Is it true that Christopher Delaware inherited a lot of really great art from that uncle of his? And that Annette’s going to be representing him?”
Malcolm said in an even tone, “I haven’t heard about any great art, other than the Rembrandt. But I know he’s Annette’s client. Oh, look, there’s Johnny Davenport. He’s bound to know. Let’s go and talk to him.”“Malcolm! Malcolm!”
He heard a woman’s voice calling his name. Trying to be heard above the clamor. Swinging his head, he spotted her at once. An old friend. It was Margaret Mellor, the editor of the best art magazine in Europe called, very simply, ART. She was waving to him.
Catching hold of David’s arm, he said, “Will you excuse me for a moment? Margaret Mellor’s beckoning to me. Go ahead, chat with Johnny. I’ll join you both shortly.”
“No problem.” David pushed ahead, moving adroitly between people, edging his way through.
Malcolm went in the opposite direction, toward his friend. When he finally reached her he grinned. “I almost didn’t hear you above the din.”
“It’s bedlam. I was just with Annette. She wants us to go and see the ballroom before it fills up with guests. She says it’s charming.”
“Then let’s go now, before we get trapped in this corner. The place is suddenly milling with old friends and colleagues. Plus loads of photographers, I notice.” He frowned.
“Don’t tell me! The press is swarming all over the place!”
Malcolm sighed. “That’s Marius. He never does things by half and he does love the media. As far as he’s concerned, the more the merrier.”
“He’s a glutton for punishment.” She sounded sarcastic.
Malcolm laughed. That was Margaret. Spot on with her comments. He put an arm around her shoulders, guided her through the crush. Behind them, flashbulbs were already popping; it seemed to him that the crowd was swelling, getting bigger by the second. How many people had they invited? The whole world, he decided, and hoped the huge crowd wouldn’t ultimately spoil the event. Why do I worry? She knows what she’s doing, even if he doesn’t, sometimes. Marius. Such an enigma.
Finally, Malcolm was pushing open the door into the ballroom. Instantly, a waiter confronted them. “I’m very sorry, but you can’t come in. Mrs. Remmington doesn’t want anyone in here for another half hour. She was very precise.” Polite but determined.
“Yes, we know. Mrs. Remmington sent us to see the ballroom before it fills up. I’m Margaret Mellor of ART magazine, and this is Mr. Stevens, a colleague and friend of Mrs. Remmington’s.”
The waiter inclined his head but didn’t budge, blocking their way. Still determined—to do his duty and keep them out.
“My chief photographer, Josh Brady, was here earlier,” Margaret added. “Taking pictures for the magazine. You must be Frank Lancel. Mrs. Remmington told me to speak to you.” Charm, a warm smile. Her tools.
“Yes, I’m Frank,” the waiter answered, relaxing, but only slightly. “And I did help Mr. Brady a while ago, when he was taking his shots. So please come in, look around. I have to stay here at the door. Stand guard. Mrs. Remmington’s instructions.” He sounded droll.
“She explained that,” Margaret answered. Taking hold of Malcolm’s hand, she led him forward. The two of them finally stood at the edge of the ballroom floor near the orchestra stand, their eyes sweeping around the room with interest and anticipation.
They were both taken aback by the unique beauty and magical effect Annette had created. The room was a sea of pale green, that peculiar pale green with a hint of gray so often found in the interiors of French châteaux, which seems to create a misty look. This pale-green silk rippled down the walls from the ceiling to the floor, and was repeated for the tablecloths, napkins, and chair seats.