By Anita Hughes
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2016 Anita Hughes
All rights reserved.
Brigit walked down the circular staircase and glanced around the living room of the villa. Every surface — the antique grand piano, the mahogany coffee table, even the pastel-colored love seats — was covered with wedding presents. There were silver boxes from Harrods and robin's egg blue squares from Tiffany's and parcels wrapped in Bloomingdale's plain brown paper. She walked to the Regency desk and picked up a pair of silver candlesticks tied with a gold ribbon. She examined the ivory card and smiled at the note from the prince and princess of Spain wishing them well but regretting they couldn't make it.
She thought about the thank-you cards she'd be writing for the next few months and desperately needed a cup of coffee. She entered the kitchen and glanced at the platters of sliced melon and fresh figs and prosciutto and was glad they had decided to get married in Santorini.
They had only been there for two days but already she adored everything about the villa perched above the town of Fira. She loved the square with its quaint boutiques and cramped cafés and twinkling lights stretched across the cobblestones. She loved the steep walking paths that were flanked by beds of white daisies and purple hyacinths.
When she woke up in the four-poster bed, wishing Blake was beside her instead of staying at a nearby villa, the ocean was the first thing she saw out the window. She loved running to the balcony and gazing down at the white sails and green fishing boats. She loved standing in the garden and seeing the white villas clinging to the cliffs and the glittering blue water far below.
She poured coffee into an enamel mug and thought of all the places they could have held the wedding. The easiest thing would have been to get married at the Plaza or the Carlyle in New York. It had a large ballroom with crystal chandeliers and thick marble columns. But she would have had to wear a satin gown by Escada or Versace with a full skirt and a twelve-foot train. The silver stilettos would have pinched her toes and the diamond tiara would have given her a headache.
Blake's friends Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck would have been uncomfortable in tuxedos and starched white shirts. She imagined shaking hands with five hundred guests and repeating that she was so pleased the Vanderbilts or the Rockefellers could attend.
Blake had suggested they get married at the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Chateau Marmont or even in his own home in the Hollywood Hills. Brigit had somehow thought that would have felt unreal — like their own wedding was part of a movie. She pictured Blake's house with its tall glass windows and low leather sofas and still couldn't believe she'd be living part time in California.
There were things she liked about Los Angeles — the wide stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, the pink and purple sunset, the smell of coconut suntan lotion — but she couldn't get used to men and women strolling down the street in shorts and flip-flops, and how everyone ate salads in brown takeout boxes and that she couldn't step outside without wearing sunglasses.
She had sat at the round kitchen table in her parents' Park Avenue town house and told her mother they wouldn't be getting married at the house in East Hampton. Her mother's mouth turned down at the edges and her brow furrowed and she suddenly needed a gin and tonic.
Brigit wanted to explain she loved everything about Summerhill: the green lawn that rolled down to the Long Island Sound, the wide rooms with their worn oak floors and plump sofas and the kitchen with the murals she and Daisy had painted as children. But she couldn't possibly get married there; it held too many memories.
Her mother smoothed her glossy blond hair and wrapped her arms around her and said no matter where they got married it would be perfect. They were so glad Brigit had found Blake and knew they would be happy. Blake entered her parents' paneled library and said he didn't mind if they got married in a rowboat on the Hudson and her mother laughed and replied that that was a terrible idea, they'd have to fish a dozen reporters out of the river.
Brigit stirred her coffee and pictured Blake's wavy dark hair and green eyes. He had tan cheeks and a cleft on his chin. They'd met at a fundraiser for the Save the Children foundation at the St. Regis. He'd stood at the podium in a black tuxedo and she thought his smile could light up the ballroom.
* * *
Brigit's parents were leading New York philanthropists and she grew up attending galas for libraries and schools and hospitals. She took a semester off from Dartmouth to dig wells in Africa and last year she took a three-month sabbatical from the law firm to travel through India. Everywhere she went she saw children with stomachs as big as their eyes and blue lips and skin like paper. She hunched in her tent at night, trying not to cry and vowing she would change things.
Now she sat listening to Blake and a tingle ran down her spine. She had just given notice and was going to join her father running the Palmer Foundation. She would miss the law firm on the fifty-fourth floor of the Empire State Building with its glass conference room and views of Central Park. She would miss the thrill of winning a settlement for her client and beating a large corporation.
She gazed at the women in Chanel evening gowns and men in Armani silk tuxedos and was excited about everything they would accomplish. She already had files full of goals for the foundation: to stock school libraries in low-income areas with her favorite books, Little Women and The Jungle Book and Anne of Green Gables. She wanted all children to grow up loving to read and knowing the world was full of wonderful places.
* * *
"Good evening, if you don't know me, I'm Blake Crawford." Blake's voice came over the loudspeaker. "I've acted in a few little films like the remake of The Hunt for Red October." Blake paused as the room erupted in polite laughter. He rustled his notes and blinked into the lights. "Five years ago I was shooting The Silk Road in Nepal with Steven Spielberg and Katie Holmes. When I wasn't admiring Miss Holmes's wonderful delivery or Steven's superb directing, I visited villages where children had never had a glass of milk or visited a doctor. Families lived in a single room and didn't have drinking water. After I returned to Hollywood I vowed every time someone watched one of my movies, part of the ticket price would go to needy children in Nepal and Pakistan and China. I know you think people in the movie industry only care about the weekend box office and the price of popcorn, but I am committed to helping end worldwide poverty and starvation." Everyone clapped and Blake bowed and gathered his notes. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to enjoy some of that Veuve Clicquot champagne and stuffed Cornish game hens."
* * *
Blake crossed the room and pulled out the chair next to Brigit. He wiped his brow and waited for the waiter to fill his champagne glass.
"Your publicist writes a wonderful speech," Brigit said, eating a forkful of braised duck with grilled asparagus.
"Do you think because I'm an actor I can only read from a teleprompter?" Blake turned to her.
"We all know how it works." Brigit shrugged, smoothing her hair behind her ears. She wore a silver Dior ball gown and gold sling backs. Her hair was held back with a gold clip and she wore diamond teardrop earrings. "The foundation hires you to champion their cause and in return you get free publicity for your next movie."
"Just because I recite lines for a living doesn't mean I don't have my own opinions," Blake bristled. "I'm sure you're more aware of poverty in your parents' Park Avenue town house with its maids' kitchen that is as big as most apartments."
"I'm sorry." Brigit looked at Blake and noticed the yellow flecks in his eyes and the lines in his forehead. "Sometimes I speak without thinking, it's a bad habit."
"That probably comes from years of people listening to whatever you say." Blake's shoulders relaxed and his face broke into a smile. "I've read all about you: Brigit Palmer, attended Spence School in Manhattan, followed by Dartmouth and Columbia Law School. Recently gave up her partner-track position at Bingham and Stoll to head the Palmer Foundation."
"Where did you read that?" Brigit flushed.
"It's on the back of the program." Blake picked up a gold sheet of paper. "I'll tell you what, why don't we start from the beginning." He put down his champagne glass and held out his hand. "I'm Blake Crawford, it's a pleasure to meet you."
* * *
The next day Brigit arrived at her office to find two tickets to The Book of Mormon with the note: "You may not be a big fan of movies, but can I convince you to see a Broadway show and have dinner at the Four Seasons?"
Brigit pictured Blake's dark wavy hair and bright green eyes and wide shoulders. She glanced from the note to the bouquet of a dozen yellow roses and couldn't think of a reason to say no.
Blake started spending weekends in New York and they ran in Central Park and ate dinner at Eleven Madison Park and Per Se. They drove to Vermont to see the leaves change and flew to Palm Beach to watch the polo matches.
At first she was hesitant about dating an actor, she wasn't used to being followed by cameras or having her photo in magazines. She had lived her whole life inside a doorman building on the Upper East Side and behind the gates of the house in East Hampton. But Blake was charming and witty and really seemed to care about getting rid of poverty and educating children. She gradually let down the wall she had built around her heart and allowed herself to fall in love.
* * *
Brigit put the cup in the sink and rubbed her lips. She wished Blake had decided to stay in the villa with Brigit and her family instead of taking his own villa with his groomsmen. She missed waking up beside him with their legs tangled together and his arm draped over her waist. In four days they were getting married and then they would have three weeks of a glorious honeymoon in Paris and Aix-en-Provence. They could make love all night and eat breakfast in bed and do whatever they want.
* * *
She opened the french doors and walked into the garden. She stood at the fence and gazed at the green cliffs and clusters of white houses. Stone churches had blue domed roofs and stained-glass windows. She leaned over the fence and gazed at the black sand beach and chipped fishing boats and clear blue water. She inhaled the scent of hibiscus and anemone and thought she was the luckiest girl in the world.
The wedding was in four days and tonight her parents were hosting a small dinner for their closest friends. Her mother insisted Brigit relax but she wanted to be sure the champagne was chilled and the waiters served the strawberries and fresh whipped cream she'd bought at the market. She turned to go inside and heard footsteps coming up the path. Two men were dressed in shorts and T-shirts and she wondered if the caterers had arrived early.
She looked more closely and saw one man wore a hat and carried a nylon backpack. He wore leather thongs and a black leather watch. The man took off his hat and Brigit's eyes flew open. She put her hand to her chest and ducked behind a rosebush.
She watched them walk toward the villa and thought she must be seeing things. It couldn't possibly be Nathaniel; she hadn't seen him since he'd walked out of their Upper East Side apartment two years ago. She pictured his curly blond hair and blue eyes and her heart turned over. What was her first husband doing in Santorini?
She held her breath as they opened the gate and approached the wooden blue front door. She crouched behind the bushes and suddenly heard footsteps on the gravel. She looked up and saw Nathaniel fold his arms across his chest. His hair was cut short and the stubble on his chin was gone but he had the same long eyelashes and wide white smile.
"You never were good at hide-and-go-seek," he announced, parting the rosebush. "Even when we were children, you would stand in the middle of the tennis court and count to ten and invite everyone to find you." His face broke into a smile. "Hello Brigit, how are you?"
"How dare you come here." Brigit stood up and smoothed her hair. She adjusted her floral dress and tightened her white leather belt. "I'm getting married in four days, and if you ruin it I'll never forgive you. If you're on vacation, you can pack your bags and go to Avignon or Tuscany."
"That's a fine greeting for someone who four years ago vowed to stay with me in sickness or in health, for richer or poorer, 'til death do us part." Nathaniel slipped his hands into his pockets.
"You were the one who walked out." Brigit walked to the stone fence. "Now what on earth are you doing here?"
"That's a long story and I'm very hot and thirsty." Nathaniel hesitated. "You are the one who filed the divorce papers."
"I waited three months," Brigit replied. "You didn't call or write or send a postcard."
"I was busy." Nathaniel leaned on the fence beside her.
"Lying on the sofa watching the Yankees game and drinking cans of lemonade?" Brigit's cheeks turned pink. "Wearing the same T-shirt four days in a row and eating the marshmallows out of the cereal box. Being too drunk at night to find the bedroom."
"Being indolent is very time consuming." Nathaniel furrowed his brow. His shoulders sagged and his eyes flickered. "I only drank at the end, when it was hopeless."
"You made it hopeless." Brigit twisted her watch. "You threw away a book contract and a whole career, and wasted your time doing the New York Times crossword puzzle."
"Doing the New York Times crossword puzzle is never a waste of time," Nathaniel protested. "I was looking for inspiration, after you sucked every original word and thought from my body."
"I was trying to help you, I couldn't watch you avoid your computer as if it caused cholera," Brigit replied. "If you had just sat at your desk, the words would have come to you."
"Writing a novel isn't like proofing a legal brief," Nathaniel corrected. "And I wrote a damn fine book of short stories which is more than eighty percent of writers in America ever accomplish. I can't help it if the critic at New York Times Book Review said: 'If Nathaniel Cabot thinks he is equipped to write about social reform in America, then I'm going to publish a book of Southern recipes. Cabot should write what he knows: growing up with a silver spoon in his mouth and deciding whether to attend Harvard or Princeton,'" Nathaniel rubbed his brow. "If he had done his research he would have discovered I got rejected at Harvard and wait listed at Princeton. Anyway, I never would have gone anywhere besides Dartmouth because I couldn't breathe without you."
"I still don't know why you're here. I haven't seen you in two years and now you show up at my wedding!" Brigit exclaimed, glancing at his tan arms and legs. "You look like you've been doing a pretty good job of breathing. Let me guess, you've been running around Europe as a tour guide or a gigolo."
"I'm glad you think my performance in the bedroom was worth money but I don't think I'd be suited to romance wealthy women. I'm sure I'd say something to offend them." Nathaniel smiled. "My parents cut me off because they thought I was wasting my life, so I've been freelancing for newspapers and magazines. I moved to London and it suits me. It's easier to be depressed when the sky is gray and you have to eat sausage rolls and meat pies."
"I don't have time to discuss your emotional well-being, I have to get ready for a party." Brigit blinked back sudden tears. "Please leave or I'll tell Blake to remove you and your friend."
"That would be tricky." Nathaniel's face broke into a smile. "It's your fiancé who invited us."
"What are you talking about?" Brigit demanded. "Blake would never invite my ex-husband to our wedding." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Santorini Sunsets by Anita Hughes. Copyright © 2016 Anita Hughes. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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