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"How much is still owing to satisfy the creditors, Mr. Watkins?"
The aging attorney raised his shaggy gray eyebrows. "Twelve million dollars."
Alex's heart plunged to her feet. That much? She felt the worst about Manny Horowitz. Her mother's agent was a good man who'd done everything to further her mother's career all these years. He was still owed close to two million dollars. How could her mother not have paid him?
"I've auctioned everything except my mother's diamonds. They've got to cover it!"
Jewelry was the only thing remaining for Alex to sell from her mother's Beverly Hills estate. If she couldn't meet the sum, then the tabloids would hear of it and trash her mother's blighted reputation even more than they'd already done by exploiting her drug-related death. Some whispered that after her last divorce from Sheik Mustafah Tahar, Kathryn Carlisle had committed suicide, but nothing had been proved conclusively. Alex didn't know what to believe.
"I'm sorry it's come to this, Alexandra. A child shouldn't have to be burdened this way."
"Thank you, Mr. Watkins, but I haven't been a child for a long time." In fact, she'd been through so much already as the unwanted offspring of the world's most beautiful woman that Alex felt ancient, but she supposed twenty-five still sounded young to him.
Since her mother's death on Christmas morning five months ago, Mr. Watkins had bent over backward to help her find ways to pay off her mother's debts. Furthermore he'd never once said a bad thing about her narcissistic parent who'd been married and divorced six times. As Kathryn's attorney from the beginning of her career, he'd had more right than anyone to castigate the willful, infamous Hollywood phenomenon of the film world who'd disregarded his advice and had run through money like she did alcohol.
At only forty-five years of age Kathryn Carlisle had come to a shockingly ugly end with nothing to show for it but a history of disastrous marriages, explosive divorces, unpaid bills despite her millions and a criminally neglected child from her first failed union. "Where would you suggest I go to get the best price for her jewelry?"
"The House of Savoy on Fifth Avenue in New York."
"My father gave her a diamond bracelet from there on their wedding night."
It was the only thing Alex remembered her mother telling her about her father. As Alex had matured she had learned for herself that her father, Oleg Grigory, had owned one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. When she'd grown old enough to understand, she'd heard rumors that he had ties to the Russian mafia, but no one knew for sure. His early death in an airplane crash was purported to be the work of a rivaling mob family.
Mr. Watkins nodded. "Without question they're the world's expert on diamonds."
Alex frowned because it meant paying for an airline ticket to the East Coast. She would have to juggle her bills to come up with the money, but Alex's mother had claimed she possessed a king's ransom in diamonds from her various husbands. If that were true, maybe all her debts would be satisfied. Only then could Alex bury the past and try to get on with her life.
"I'll call you as soon as I've booked my flight."
"Good. Considering we're talking about your mother's collection, I feel they're the one company that will be totally honest in their dealings with you. And discreet."
Ah, yes. Discreet. For this last, financial transaction, maybe it would be best to get away from Hollywood and the scandalmongers.
Oh, Mother Why couldn't you have been a mother instead of Kathryn Carlisle?
Mr. Watkins eyed her with compassion. "Once you know your flight, I'll make the appointment for you with the head jeweler. Drop by the bank on your way to the airport, and I'll arrange for them to hand over the jewel case from her strongbox."
With a nod she left his office and headed for her job as a makeup artist on a studio lot. She would have to talk to her boss, Michelle, about getting some time off. The older woman who headed the department had always been good to her and would certainly let Alex take the time she needed, but this was the last favor she intended to ask of her.
A few days later Alex stepped out of a New York taxi into unseasonable June heat and humidity. She checked her watch. It was 10:20 a.m. That gave her ten more minutes.
Alex imagined the temperature would soar by the afternoon and congratulated Mr. Watkins for getting her an early appointment at the House of Savoy.
After gripping her purse and the small overnight bag carrying the jewel case and one change of clothes, she started across the intersection toward the exclusive store. To her surprise there was a long line of people that went from its entrance and down the street to disappear around the next corner. Security was everywhere. She approached one of the women standing there reading a book.
"Excuse me?" The other woman looked up, not particularly happy to be bothered. "What's going on here? Why is there such a long line?"
"The Ligurian diamond is on display today," she answered in her heavy Bronx accent before going back to her reading as if that explained everything.
"I see. Thank you."
Alex had never heard of the Ligurian diamond. She had heard of the Hope diamond and she'd seen pictures of the British crown jewels, but that was about the extent of her knowledge of the world's most famous diamonds. As far as she was concerned, diamonds were synonymous with tragedy. The diamonds from six husbands hadn't brought her mother any happiness. To Alex's mind they represented the ashes of the mother-and-daughter relationship that had never happened.
She approached one of the security men at the door. When she explained that she had an appointment with the head jeweler, Mr. Defore, the guard made a quick phone call. A minute later he allowed her inside, where another guard escorted her through an installed metal detector.
When the beep went off, she was asked to open her purse and overnight bag.
Once he was satisfied with the search, she was free to continue with the other guard. As they moved to the elevator past yet some other guards keeping a close eye on the orderly crowd, she glimpsed a dark, teardrop-shaped diamond on display in the center of the elegant foyer. The dazzling stone had been placed on a brilliantly lit pedestal within a closed glass casing, but she was too far away to determine its color. No doubt a diamond of such a large size would easily pay her mother's debt.
The guard joined her inside the elevator. "Mr. Defore's office is on the second floor," he explained, drawing her attention back to the business at hand. When the doors opened again, he guided her to a suite on the right of the bank of elevators. A secretary in the reception area told her to sit down. Five minutes later Alex was shown in to Mr. Defore's private office.
"Come in, Ms. Grigory. You're right on time. I hope you had a pleasant flight from Los Angeles."
"I did. Thank you, Mr. Defore."
"Sit down over here." The short, pleasant-faced jeweler held out a chair for her, then went around the desk to his swivel chair to face her. "Coffee? Tea? A soft drink?"
"No, nothing, thank you. When Mr. Watkins made this appointment for me, we didn't realize you would have a diamond exhibit going on."
He smiled. "Once a year the Principality of Castelmare allows it to be on loan here for a day."
Castelmare, ruled by King Vittorio, had replaced Monaco as the favorite vacation destination on the Riviera for the world's most rich and famous. The former city-state was located on the Mediterranean where her mother had spent part of her sixth honeymoon.
"Do you know if the diamond will be on display in California?" Alex's boss would definitely want to see it.
Mr. Defore cocked his head. "It won't. Except for a yearly one-day showing in New York, London, Rio, Sydney, Hong Kong and Dubai, it stays in Castelmare."
Alex reflected that Rodeo Drive in L.A. was supposed to have some of the most exclusive shops in North America, but apparently not exclusive enough. "The House of Savoy is very fortunate to have been chosen to display it."
His brows lifted. "I don't think you understand, Ms. Grigory. The present day king of Castelmare is the latest Italian sovereign of the ancient House of Savoy. This store is the monarchy's property."
She blinked. "I had no idea."
No wonder her mother had been so ecstatic over the diamond bracelet her father had purchased here. Alex was indebted to Mr. Watkins for directing her to this store, where she would almost certainly get the highest price for the stones to pay off her mother's horrendous debts.
"Shall I take a look at your mother's collection now?"
His question jerked Alex from her torturous thoughts. "Of course." She opened the overnight bag and placed the jewel case on his desk, positioning it for Mr. Defore to open it himself. Mr. Defore nodded and got to work. Alex had never seen all her mother's jewelry before, only heard about it. She'd put the inventory from the bank in her purse. It listed seven diamond rings, four pairs of diamond earrings, one diamond bracelet, three diamond necklaces and two diamond ankle bracelets.
When he finally lifted the lid, the sight of the diamonds would have impressed anyone except Alex, who simply mourned the life she'd never had with her mother. Money had been her mother's God, and Alex wondered how one person could have been so devoid of motherly instinct and could have demonstrated so much bad judgment in everything she did?
Mr. Defore said nothing as he began his examination. Because the House of Savoy dealt regularly with the world's wealthiest people, Alex realized her mother's possessions would cause no great stir. Certainly this jeweler had little interest in Kathryn Carlisle and simply got to work studying each piece with his loupe.
He finally lifted his head. Wearing a distinct frown he said, "Who told you these were diamonds?"
Caught off guard by the stunning question, Alex took a moment before she could recover enough to say, "Mr. Wat-kins, my mother's attorney."
The man shook his head. "These are imitations."
Alex reeled, causing her to clutch the edge of the desk for support. "But that's impossible!"
"Perhaps she kept the real jewels in another case?"
She swallowed hard. There was no other case. "This was the only one in the bank vault," she whispered.
"I'm very sorry, Ms. Grigory. We deal with mined diamonds, not fabrications. I'm sure there are shops in Los Angeles that would pay twenty, maybe twenty-five hundred dollars for this assortment of costume jewelry."
"Surely you're joking!" During the flight she'd begun to get excited about being able to pay off the last of the huge debt whose weight felt like a stone sitting in the pit of her stomach.
"I assure you I'm not. Scientists have synthesized and created diamond alternatives meant to trick the naked eye. However, when you view them through the loupe, they haven't the fire or brilliance."
She shot out of the chair, too shaken to sit still. "Is there someone else I could speak to about this?"
A dull red entered his cheeks. "I'mthe head jeweler here."
His rigid attitude prompted her to reach in the case and lift out a piece. "My father, Oleg Grigory, my mother's first husband, bought this diamond bracelet here twenty-six years ago. He was the owner of one of the largest casinos in Las Vegas. Surely you have a record of it somewhere, if only so I can verify it."
"One moment," he said quietly. "I'll research it on the computer."
She was shaking so hard from shock, she could hardly sit still while she waited.
"Yes. He did make such a purchase." His gaze switched to hers. "But I'm afraid it was not that bracelet. Perhaps your mother sold her jewels without telling anyone and had these replicas made to wear?"
Is that what you did, Mother? Did you sell your diamonds along with your soul? The possibility pierced her like a fiery metal shaft.
Taking a deep breath, she said, "I'd still like another opinion. Who's the manager of the House of Savoy?"
"Mr. Bernard Hudson. I'm afraid he's occupied with the showing of the Ligurian diamond."
"Will you tell him these are Kathryn Carlisle's jewels? When he learns of this situation, I know he'll want to talk to me." By now Alex was desperate enough to use her mother's name for leverage.
"You don't understand. He won't be available until tomorrow. I'll ask my secretary to make you an appointment with him."
"Surely he can spare five minutes? I'll wait."
"Impossible. Now I'm very sorry, Ms. Grigory, but I'm afraid you'll have to leave my office because I have other clients to see." He shut the case, leaving her holding the bracelet.
Her body tautened. "Look, Mr. Defore I flew all the way from Los Angeles for this appointment. My return flight is booked for tonight." Her hand tightened around the bracelet, which according to him was nothing more than paste. "By tomorrow I'll be back on the West Coast. I have to talk to him!"
She fought not to lose her temper in front of this composed jeweler, who was probably paid an indecent sum of money not to lose his.
"At the risk of repeating myself, Ms. Grigory, there's nothing more I can do for you at present."
"Your manager has to eat lunch sometime today. Since he's on the premises, I can't believe he wouldn't take out a moment to see me."
"I'm sorry." The jeweler was implacable.
"What kind of a man are you?" she cried out in torment. "You can at least call him on the phone. Tell him who I am. Inform him this is a matter of life and death!" Without hesitation she grabbed the phone on his desk and held the receiver in front of him.
Maybe it was the fact that her five-foot-nine height gave her the advantage over him, or possibly it was the narrowing of her eyelids with their slightly tilted shape. Whatever the explanation, he finally took the receiver from her, but then hung it up.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw his hand move to press a button on his console. He was probably summoning security. So be it. Alex had come to New York on a mission.
Alex's mother had once accused her of being incredibly stubborn like her father. She'd been born Alexandra Carlisle Grigory. The one picture she had of her father showed him to be a tall man who'd died when Alex was just nine months old. Like her mother's death, the police still hadn't determined if his was accidental or staged to look like one.