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The 175-foot superyacht Zeus bobbed silently in Turkbuku Bay, the recently anointed St. Tropez of Turkey's Turquoise Coast. The night sky seamlessly blended into the oily-black waters of the Aegean Sea, wrapping the spectacular yacht in a cloak of darkness. A ghostly hush had fallen on the decks. Everyone on board had gone to beach clubs after dinner several hours ago, with only the crew playing cards belowdecks and enjoying an evening off from their demanding guests. All the guests except one. Sebastian Edward Cavendish, Old Etonian, minor aristocrat and owner of Cavendish Gallery, the most prestigious photographic gallery in London, sat in the Zeus's smartest stateroom feeling as if his whole life was unraveling. Not even the luxury of the cabin, with its walnut-paneled walls and huge picture window looking out onto the inky sea could diminish his sense of being trapped. Sebastian had returned from The Supper Club, the Bodrum Peninsula's hottest nightspot, an hour earlier, drunk and angry. Unable to relax due to his escalating problems back home, his anxieties had bubbled over at the club and he'd had a furious argument with his wife, accusing her of flirting with their host. Tongue loosened by ouzo and goaded by his wife, he had blurted out that he'd slept with his new gallery assistant, a dazzling blonde recruited straight out of the Courtauld Institute. His wife had erupted like Mount St. Helens, getting it into her stupid pampered head that it was some kind of ongoing affair and had threatened him with divorce. He had pleaded with her to come back to the yacht to discuss things away from the DJ and the cocktails and eavesdropping jet set, but she had turned on her spike heels and disappeared. Frustrated, seething, he had stormed back to the boat.
Now, staring out of the window of the cabin, his head throbbed as the alcohol buzzed round his bloodstream. He looked at his watch. Three a.m. and she still hadn't returned to the yacht.
That bitch, he thought.
Sebastian stripped off his clothes, throwing them onto a leather club chair, and chopped out a line of coke on the dressing table in the hope that it would make him feel better. As soon as the white powder hit the back of his throat he knew he had made a mistake. He felt even worse.
Pulling on a white toweling bathrobe, Sebastian padded out on deck to get a hit of cold, salty, night sea air. He leaned against the waist-high rail at the aft of the yacht and rubbed his eyes. The lights of Turkbuku twinkled in the distance like tiny flickering candles. Beyond that his eyes strained to make out the heavily wooded Turkish hillside, the tall spike of a mosque's minaret. He wondered if this would be his last holiday on the big yacht with the glamorous friends. He snorted scornfully. They were friends now, but would they still want to know him when he was bankrupt? Like hell -- and he was living on borrowed time. Despite the high-profile launch parties and exhibitions of some of the world's finest fashion photographers, the Cavendish Gallery was failing, his gambling debts were mounting, and a particularly nasty North London family was chasing him for money he'd foolishly borrowed. He stood to lose everything. He had already put the Holland Park house, that stucco-fronted jewel, in his wife's name where it would be out of reach, although after tonight he was beginning to doubt that was such a good idea. Christ, he hoped she had cooled down. Sebastian hated confrontation; that was the root of his trouble. In business, in life, in love.
He pushed himself upright and picked up a glass from the table beside him, pouring in a splash of ouzo. It was time to sort his life out, he thought, throwing the drink back. The yacht was due to sail to Istanbul in the morning, he reflected. They could get off at the port and enjoy a couple of days together strolling around the exotic bazaars, walking along the Bosphorus, and try and recapture that exquisite feeling of falling madly, addictively in love.
He listened for the hum of the tender again, but the yacht was silent, the only sound the black waves lapping against the hull; a hollow, hypnotic sound, matching his sense of hopelessness.
Suddenly he turned, convinced he had heard something -- a soft flurry of footsteps on the deck, perhaps? No, just the same gentle slap of water against the boat. He was becoming paranoid. Even in London he was beginning to feel watched wherever he went. Defiantly he tossed his crystal tumbler overboard and leaned right over the railings to hear the satisfying plop as the glass fell into the sea. He didn't notice that his solid silver Asprey cigar cutter had slipped out of his pocket and landed on the deck with a quiet thud. He never would.
Early the next morning, a Turkish fisherman, sailing in the bay on his small wooden gulet, discovered a white naked body, quite dead, floating in the water, and contacted the local police immediately. About the same time, the guests of Zeus, stirring from their party sleep, were quizzing the captain about the whereabouts of one of their number. Sebastian Cavendish had rightly prophesied that it would be his last holiday on board the magnificent yacht. A Turkish inquest pronounced the incident death by accidental drowning. His wife, Karin, inherited the Holland Park mansion, a spectacular photographic collection and £5 million in life insurance.
Copyright © 2007 by Tasmina Perry
Six months later
"Doesn't she look fabulous?"
"And after everything she's been through. Still a bit pale, though, don't you think?"
"No wonder. Apparently she stayed in Kensington for Christmas."
"London? I thought I saw her in St. Barts?"
"On a yacht? No way, not after the accident. I heard she never wants to set foot on a yacht ever again."
Sipping from her flute of pink champagne, Karin Cavendish tried to ignore the whispers coming from every corner of Donna and Daniel Delemere's Eton Square ballroom. A woman of impeccable manners, she was mortified that her presence at the christening had completely upstaged her new goddaughter's big day. Her leave of absence from the social scene after the death of her husband Sebastian had only heightened Karin's considerable allure, and in the last six months she had become the subject of gossip and fascinated speculation.
Still, nothing could detract from a party like this, thought Karin. It really was impressive. The one hundred guests who had attended Evie's baptism at St. Peter's Church an hour earlier were now circulating around one of the most beautiful ballrooms in London. Forget power christening, thought Karin, popping a caviar blini on her tongue: this was more like a royal wedding. Waiters milled around with trays of bubbling Krug and delicate canapés. Filipino housekeepers were discreetly plumping up silk cushions and taking coats to the cloakroom. The net worth of the guests in this room alone must be over £10 billion, she calculated, looking at Ariel Levy, Martin Birtwell, and Evie's grandfather, Lord Alexander Delemere. She had not seen such a fine gathering of billionaires since her own wedding to Sebastian six years earlier, at the Cavendish family seat of Hopton Castle. She thought for a moment how Sebastian would have loved it. He had been so handsome and well connected, she sighed.
Backlit by a long, gilt-framed window, Karin's elegant figure was attracting discreet admiring glances from the men in the room and she tried not to smile. It had been a difficult six months, during which time Karin had thrown herself into her work and seen only the closest of friends, but now she was back on the circuit, it seemed that her new status of widow was not without its advantages. It gave her a whiff of tragedy, a veneer of respect. It removed the suggestion of predatory desires that so often accompanied a glamorous divorcée or single woman. Suddenly she was available, romantic and loaded. Not a bad place to be, thought Karin, taking in the super-rich lifestyle in front of her. Not bad at all.
"Sweetie, I'm so glad you agreed to be Evie's godmother," said Donna Delemere, approaching Karin, clutching her three-month-old daughter Evie. "I know how hard it must be for you being here today. Daniel and I appreciate it so much."
Karin leaned forward and, with an elegantly manicured finger, gingerly pulled back the voluminous folds of the Brittany lace gown covering the child.
"Oh, I was just honored to be asked. And I'm fine, really. I need to start getting back out there and what a wonderful occasion to start. It was a lovely ceremony and my goddaughter looks just beautiful."
"Isn't she pretty," smiled Donna with pride. "I want to put her in for modeling. I'm thinking Baby Dior; none of those vulgar nappy ads you see on TV. But I don't think Daniel likes the idea. Says it's too gosh."
"Gauche?" asked Karin with a small smile.
"That's the one," she said, flushing prettily. "Maybe he's right. Anyway, let's mingle."
Karin followed Donna through the crowds, nodding at acquaintances, accepting compliments and flattering looks. While many of the rumors about Karin Cavendish were fanciful or downright scandalous, one thing everyone agreed on was that Karin looked fabulous. At thirty-one, in a cherryred jersey dress that seemed to slide off her slim curves, she would be easily mistaken for a model. Her long tanned legs, full-lipped pout, and the glossy raven hair that bounced onto her shoulders, all gave her the striking appeal of a sultry yet aloof French actress. And currently there was extra sparkle in Karin's wolf-green eyes. She had just sold her five-story home in Holland Park for £12 million to a prominent Iranian businessman, downsized to a deluxe Georgian town house in Kensington, and plowed the profit into her company, Karenza, the sexiest, chicest swimwear company after Eres. Yes, there were prettier girls, there were richer girls but, looking around the party, where London's entire beau monde was sipping Krug, she knew that nobody was quite the dynamic package she was.
Donna led her to a corner of the room where society giants Christina Levy and Diana Birtwell were huddled.
"And is this the gorgeous godmother?" laughed Christina, a stunning redhead wearing Lanvin, five hundred thousand pounds' worth of emeralds and a cloud of bespoke scent. "Kay's the perfect choice for godmother, darling," she smirked to Donna. "She has a fabulous archive of Chanel, for which Evie will one day be very grateful. Although I hope you're not seriously looking to her for Evie's spiritual guidance."
The wife of Ariel Levy, the biggest British retail tycoon since Philip Green, Christina had only just managed to squeeze the christening in between a post-Christmas stint at Amansala's Bikini Boot Camp in Tulum and the haute-couture collections in Paris. Sitting next to Christina was Diana Birtwell, a decorous Paltrow blonde and wife of Martin Birtwell, the Internet gambling king. Together they were Karin's closest female friends. The three women had shared a house in Chelsea almost a decade earlier, when Christina, a former Californian beauty queen, had come over to London to score a record deal. She had run into Karin and Diana at Hobo's nightclub, where the two school friends spent night after night drinking cocktails and chasing floppy-haired banking heirs. Hitting it off, the three of them had rented 23b College Mews, a tiny pink terrace in Chelsea, and had painted the international social scene red, white and blue, jetting around the globe at the expense of rich men. The three Mustique-ateers, that's what they'd called themselves. They had promised lifetime loyalty to each other and swore they'd never be without De Beers diamonds.
Donna passed Evie to her Australian nanny and sat opposite Diana and Christina on a huge leather ottoman.
"Who is that with Rula?" asked Karin, discreetly pointing to a tall, slim, porcelain-skinned woman with long, buttery-blond hair. A reigning Miss Adriatic Coast, she was standing with her arm wrapped proprietorially around a stout man in his sixties, with a bald head and a white tuft of hair on the point of his chin. Rula's four-inch Louboutin heels meant there was almost a foot height difference between the two of them.
"That's Conrad Pushkin," whispered Christina. "The novelist. Apparently they've got engaged but haven't announced it yet. Not until she's handed over the pageant crown."
"A novelist?" said Diana with surprise. "What's she thinking?" Rula was one of their more beautiful acquaintances, which was a significant achievement considering their social group consisted of some of London's most groomed and striking women. Rula was wearing a sable mink poncho and cream leather trousers that made her legs look endless. In the women's opinion, Rula could have had anyone.
"He has a Nobel Prize, honey," said Christina, wide-eyed. "I have to hand it to her -- it's pure genius!"
"What's genius?" asked Donna, taking a sip of champagne. She had stopped breast-feeding especially for the party.
"Deferred gratification, darling," said Christina, as if it was obvious. Seeing Donna's blank look, she patiently explained. "Rula's decided not to go for the really big catch," replied Christina thoughtfully. "Not immediately, anyway. Conrad's not good-looking, and he's not exactly rich either, so all the decent men, and I'm talking top fifty on the Sunday Times Rich List here, they'll see this gorgeous woman marrying an egghead and think, "Ah! Rula isn't interested in money! She married him for love, the lucky dog." So when she's done with him, mark my words, that honey is going to be in hot demand. The world thinks she's a beautiful woman not interested in money, but the kicker is that her ex-husband was a world-class brain. Rich men are desperate to feel clever. Marry Rula and they can bask in Conrad's glory."
Donna whistled, in awe of Christina's wisdom.
"Do you spend hours thinking about this stuff?" asked Karin, taking a Parma ham wrapped fig from a platter.
"Darling, we all spend hours thinking about this stuff," smiled Christina with a wink.
"Anyway, on to more serious matters...who did the catering, Donna honey?" Christina continued. "I'm looking for someone to do Joshua's birthday. We're looking for something tasteful but simple."
"Like re-creating Narnia?" said Karin, recalling the last birthday party Christina had arranged for her nine-year-old stepson, Ariel's child by his first wife. Their whole Mayfair home had been transformed into a C.S. Lewis novel complete with real snow, actors dressed as fauns and shoulder-high piles of Turkish delight.
"We want Joshua to have the best of everything," said Christina knowingly.
"Actually, it's the chefs from the farm who have put this together," said Donna. "Everything being served here today you can buy in the farm shop."
Donna had recently opened a spa and organic farm store on the Delemere family estate, a bucolic 2,000-acre parcel of land in Oxfordshire. You couldn't seem to move these days for socialites setting up children's clothes shops or designing handbags, thought Karin wryly. Of course, she wouldn't class herself with the bored lunching classes and their expensive hobbies. Karenza swimwear was becoming big business: turnover of £20 million a year, two more shop launches planned for the autumn and ideas for a lingerie line rolling out next year. Seb's death had made her a rich woman, but within the next five years she was determined that the money she now had in her Coutt's bank account would seem like pocket money.
"You really should be thinking about promoting yourself as the Eco-Brit Martha Stewart," said Karin, looking at her slim, eager friend. "I know the farm shop is doing well, but you should start expanding the franchise as soon as possible. The possibilities of lifestyle brand extensions from Delemere are endless."
"Do you always have to talk business?" grumbled Diana, draining her flute of champagne.
Karin smiled thinly. She felt sorry for women like Diana who had nothing to do except shop. After drifting into fashion PR, Diana had been working on a promotion for a Savile Row tailor. Dropping into the showroom one day, she had met Martin Birtwell, rising Internet gambling tycoon, coming out of the changing room. Diana was seduced by Martin's drive and by his convertible sports car; Martin was dazzled by the fashionable society world that Diana moved in. They instantly became one of London's most attractive couples. But the second Diana had married him, in July the previous summer, she had given up work. She now filled her days with blow-dry appointments and baby showers. Karin pursed her lips just thinking about it. How silly, she thought. Karin wanted a man to enhance her position, she didn't want to depend on him for it. She looked around the room, sizing up all the fabulously wealthy men in front of her. It won't be long, she thought. It won't be long.
On the other side of the room, Molly Sinclair wasn't sure what was making her feel more sick, the calorific cupcake she had just eaten, or sheer naked envy. Molly had just been treated to a tour of the house, which had brought home to her the extent of Donna Delemere's good fortune. Evie's nursery was bigger than Molly's entire apartment, taking up a whole floor of the Georgian pile, complete with a nanny annex and a Mark Wilkinson cot in the shape of Cinderella's carriage. White French armoires were stuffed with Bonpoint clothes, while a huge photograph of Mummy and Daddy's wedding hung over the fireplace like a gloating reminder of everything Molly didn't have.
It didn't seem two minutes ago since Donna Jones, as she was known back when Molly had first met her, was a bottle-blond tramp looking for city boys at Legends nightclub. Now look at her, she thought bitterly, taking a long swig of vodka. Donna had swapped her Dolce & Gabbana hot pants for cashmere twin-sets the minute she had met Daniel Delemere, an art historian with a huge family fortune, at the Cartier polo three years earlier. But that had been just the start of her incredible transformation into society wife. Her hair was now a soft nutmeg brown, her wardrobe an elegant mixture of Marni and Jil Sander and, bearing the Delemere name, Donna now sat on the most important charity committees and holidayed for the entire summer in the best villas around the Med. Nobody seemed to mention that she had once been a mobile beautician from Hull.
Of course, Donna had only done what girls with humble backgrounds and explosive good looks had been doing for decades. What really needled Molly was that it hadn't been her. It was an eternal mystery to Molly why she hadn't managed to elevate herself into this strata of society. Acquiring a husband with an impressive surname and a gull's-egg-sized rock on her finger was something she had expected ever since her modeling career had taken off like a bottle-rocket in the 1980s. She had been voted one of the world's most beautiful women four times, for Christ's sake! Not quite in the Christy Turlington league, but Molly had certainly been on the next rung down in the supermodel pecking order. And Molly had weathered well. Even at forty-three, Molly could have passed for someone ten years younger, and the smoldering sex appeal that had made her famous had not been dimmed. Her hair was long and thick with glossy tawny highlights. Her cheekbones were high and noble and her tanned skin, regularly treated with cell-regeneration shots, from a distance looked fresh and young. Today she was wearing a winter-white cashmere sweater and cream trousers, and she looked as if she had stepped off a plane from St. Barts that very morning, not out of her home in the slightly more "bohemian" end of Notting Hill.
But no, the good marriage hadn't happened. Bad luck, bad judgment, bad drugs -- who knew? The bottom line was that her midforties were around the corner and Molly was still single. Even worse was that she was slowly being shut out of the most exclusive society events. Those girlfriends she had spent night after night with at L'Equipe Anglaise, Tramp and Annabel's in the 1980s and 1990s had all disappeared to grand Scottish country estates, to Manhattan's Upper East Side, or to mansions in Palm Beach. Every now and then she would receive an invitation to an event like today's christening, but she was never invited to spend a week at the villas, or to intimate dinners with the prize husbands. It was obvious why. She was a single, beautiful woman and therefore a threat, plus Molly was part of their past, a past she knew they did not want to be reminded of.
She picked on a crab claw before throwing it into a plant pot behind her. She took a deep breath, assuring herself that the situation was purely temporary. She was Molly Sinclair, the supermodel. She had lived longer on her wits than any of these nobodies. She stalked off to the bathroom to take a line of cocaine. She'd show them. All of them.
Karin popped open her compact and checked her reflection. She had to be looking her best for a charm offensive. As godmother, Karin's attendance at Evie's christening had, of course, been de rigueur, but it was also an ideal opportunity to drum up business for the charity benefit gala dinner she had planned for the following month. With so many society players in the room in such a buoyant, benevolent mood, it would have been foolish to let the opportunity pass to sell tickets for her Cool Earth benefit gala. Like many of the women in the room, Karin had dipped her toe in charity work before, but after Sebastian's death she had needed a more substantial project to sink her teeth into, and an exclusive high-profile dinner for eight hundred was just the solution.
"How are the auction prizes coming along?" asked Christina, who had already donated a week on the Levy's yacht, the Big Blue, as a lot.
"Fine," replied Karin. "Except I had to fire the events assistant yesterday. You don't know anyone suitable, do you? I need someone young, keen, presentable -- someone with a brain."
Christina shook her head blankly.
"I can ask Martin if you like," said Diana. "I think his company uses, some agency."
"I'd be grateful," said Karin, in her usual cool, efficient manner. "They don't have to be experienced, just keen. I'll be handling the important matters like guest lists and table plans."
"Ahh, I see," smiled Diana, playing with a pebble-sized solitaire diamond dangling around her neck. "Now you're single..."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Karin, waving a hand dismissively.
"I'm only interested in raising as much money as possible. Do you know what's happening to the ice caps?"
"Of course I do," said Diana. "The snow was awful in Megève this year."
"Hey, why don't we ask Molly Sinclair?" said Donna, nodding toward the tall woman across the room. "She's a consultant at Feldman Jones PR and Events. She must know someone suitable."
"If we must," said Karin coolly. Karin barely knew Molly, but knew of her; an eighties almost-supermodel, a coked-up has-been, still on the circuit peddling her overt sexuality, trying to bag whatever half-rich man would have her.
Donna waved her friend over.
"Everyone here knows Molly, don't they?" said Donna, getting weak smiles from all three women. "Do you know of any good PAs or events assistants, Molly?"
"What's it for?" purred Molly in her smoldering smoker's voice.
"Karin's Cool Earth benefit. She's trying to do it without a committee," said Christina sternly.
Karin smiled thinly. A committee was the last thing she needed. She was happy to let a handful of select, connected friends sell tickets on the fund's behalf, but the controlling streak in Karin would not allow any meddling in her vision. She wanted the glory to be all hers.
"Will you be coming, Molly?" asked Diana, absently wondering how Molly managed to look so good. If she'd had a lift, it was amazing.
"Tables are very expensive," said Karin quickly. "One thousand pounds a plate and selling out quickly."
Molly shook her head, hair swooshing from side to side across her shoulders. "Can't make the actual dinner, unfortunately. I have friends coming from the States that night," she said, accepting another glass of champagne from a waiter.
Inwardly, Molly was wincing at the ticket price. A thousand pounds! It was outrageous! Her coke allowance for a month. Six months' gym membership. A good dress. She knew the event was a worthwhile investment, but she just didn't have that much money sloshing around.
"Speaking of friends, I tell you who you should invite," smiled Christina, taking a delicate sip of a white Russian. "Adam Gold."
"Who's he?" asked Karin.
"Karin, darling, you're slacking," smiled Christina through glossy lips. "New York real estate and investment guy. He's behind some of those fabulous new condo developments in Manhattan, Miami and Dallas. He's also very sexy and very wealthy. Just made the Forbes list this year."
Molly's ears pricked up. Forbes list! That meant net worth a billion dollars minimum.
Karin gave Christina her best uninterested ice-queen expression. "Billionaire or not, he's unlikely to come from New York for a party, even this one."
"Oh no, haven't you heard?" said Diana, widening her baby-blue eyes. "He's just moved to London. Martin says he's rolling out his property developing all over Europe, Moscow and Dubai and the Far East."
"We could do with a shot of new blood," said Christina, smiling. "Not that I want to touch, of course," she added, stealing a glance at her husband, who was smoking a Cohiba on the terrace, "but I do like to look."
"Darling, get him invited," smiled Christina, touching Karin's knee meaningfully. "The tickets will fly out the door once word gets out that he's coming."
"Well, I am in London that evening," said Molly slowly. "Perhaps I could pop by afterward...?"
Karin and Molly's eyes locked and they recognized in the other something they had encountered many times before. Rivalry.
"I hate to disappoint you, sweetheart," said Karin coolly, "but there won't be any after-dinner tickets for the benefit night. It's just not that kind of event."
Molly smiled. It was her sweetest, most earnest smile, a smile that had lit up a dozen magazine covers and persuaded many people, people much richer and more powerful than Karin, to do her bidding. Yes, thought Molly, Adam Gold sounded like just the sort of man to get her right back where she belonged, and she wasn't going to let an uptight, jealous little control freak like Karin Cavendish stop her from getting him. And her smile grew just a little wider.
Copyright © 2007 by Tasmina Perry